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The  Great  Utopia 

The  Russian  and  Soviet  Avant-Garde, 

During  the  years  1915-32,  Moscow  and  Petrograd  (from  1924, 
Leningrad)  witnessed  revolutions  in  art  and  politics  that  changed  the 
course  of  Modernist  art  and  modern  history.  Though  the  great 
revolution  in  art — the  radical  formal  innovations  constituted  by 
Vladimir  Tatlin's  "material  assemblages"  and  Kazimir  Malevich's 
Suprematism — in  fact  preceded  the  political  revolution  by  several 
years,  the  full  weight  of  the  new  expressive  possibilities  was  felt  only 
after,  and  to  a  large  extent  because  of,  the  social  upheavals  of  February 
and  October  191J.  As  avant-garde  artists,  armed  with  new  insights 
into  form  and  materials ,  sought  to  realize  the  Utopian  aims  of  the 
Bolshevik  Revolution,  art  and  life  seemed  to  merge. 

In  this  volume,  which  accompanies  the  largest  exhibition  ever 
mounted  at  the  Guggenheim  Museum,  twenty-one  essays  by  eminent 
scholars  from  Germany,  Great  Britain,  Russia,  and  the  United  States 
explore  the  activity  of  the  Russian  and  Soviet  avant-garde  in  all  its 
diversity  and  complexity.  These  essays  trace  the  work  of  Malevich's 
Unovis  (Affirmers  of  the  New  Art)  collective  in  Vitebsk,  which 
introduced  Suprematism' s  all-encompassing  geometries  into  the  design  of 
textiles,  ceramics,  and,  indeed,  whole  environments;  the 
postrevolutionary  reform  of  art  education  and  the  creation  of  Moscow's 
Vkhutemas  (Higher  Artistic-Technical  Workshops),  where  the  formal 
and  analytical  principles  of  the  avant-garde  were  the  basis  of 
instruction;  the  debates  over  a  "proletarian  art"  and  the  transition  to 
Constructivism,  "production  art, "  and  the  "artist-constructor";  the 
organization  of  new  artist-administered  "museums  of  artistic  culture"; 
the  "third path"  in  non-objective  art  taken  by  Mikhail  Larionov;  the 
return  to  figuration  in  the  mid- 1920s  by  the  young  artists — and 
former  students  of  the  avant-garde — in  Ost  (the  Society  of  Easel 
Painters);  the  debates  among  photographers,  in  the  late  1920s  and 
early  1930s,  on  the  superiority  of  the  fragmented  or  continuous  image  as 
a  representation  of  the  new  socialist  reality;  book,  porcelain,  fabric, 
and  stage  design;  and  the  evolution  of  a  new  architecture,  from  the 
experimental  projects  of  Zhivskul'ptarkh  (the  Synthesis  of  Painting, 
Sculpture,  and  Architecture  Commission)  to  the  multistage  competition, 
in  1931-32,  for  the  Palace  of  Soviets,  which  "proved"  the 
inapplicability  of  a  Modernist  architecture  to  the  Bolshevik  Party's 

More  than  seven  hundred  of  the  finest  examples  of  Russian  and 
Soviet  avant-garde  art  are  reproduced  here  in  full  color.  Drawn  from 
public  and  private  collections  worldwide — notably,  from  Baku,  Kiev, 
Moscow,  Riga,  Samara,  St.  Petersburg,  and  Tashkent  in  the  former 
Soviet  Union — these  works  are  by  such  masters  as  Natan  Al'tman, 
ll'ia  Chashnik,  Aleksandra  Ekster,  Gustav  Klutsis,  El  Lissitzky, 
Liubov' Popova,  01' ga  Rozanova,  Georgii  and  Vladimir  Stenberg, 
and  the  Vesnin  brothers. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Red  Square  (Painterly  Realism:  Peasant  Woman 

in  Two  Dimensions),  191$ 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 

The  Great  Utopia 

The  Russian  and  Soviet  Avant-Garde. 

Digitized  by  the  Internet  Archive 

in  2012  with  funding  from 

Metropolitan  New  York  Library  Council  -  METRO 

The  Great  Utopia 

The  Russian  and  Soviet  Avant-Garde, 

Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery 
State  Russian  Museum 
Schirn  Kunsthalle  Frankfurt 


©The  Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Foundation,  New  York,  1992  Prefaces 

©State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow,  1992  Thomas  Krens,  Michael  Govan 

©State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg,  1992  x 

©Ministry  of  Culture  of  the  Russian  Federation,  1992 

All  rights  reserved  Vladimir  Gusev,  Evgeniia  Petrova,  lurii  Korolev 

ISBN:  0-89207-095-1 

Jiirgen  Weber 
Published  by  the  Guggenheim  Museum  xiv 

1 07 1  Fifth  Avenue 
New  York,  New  York  10 128 

Distributed  by  Rizzoli  International  Publications,  Inc. 
300  Park  Avenue  South,  New  York,  New  York   10010 

Printed  in  Japan  by  Toppan  Printing  Co.,  Inc. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Red  Square  (Painterly  Realism:  Peasant  Woman 

in  Two  Dimensions),  191 5 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 

Photo  credits:  Michael  Agee,  Jorg  P.  Anders, 
Vladimir  Babailov,  Jacques  Befank,  Valerii  Evstigneev, 
Aleksandr  Galkin,  David  Heald,  Mariusz  Lukawski, 
Philippe  Migeat,  Piermarco  Menini,  Rudolf  Nagel, 
Otto  E.  Nelson,  Ivan  Nenec,  Sovetskoe  foto,  Jim  Strong, 
Joseph  Szaszfai,  Sergei  Tartakovskii,  Vitalii  Teplov, 
Paolo  Vandrasch,  Igor1  Voronov,  John  Webb 

The  Great  Utopia 

The  Russian  and  Soviet  Avant-Garde, 

Schirn  Kunsthalle  Frankfurt 
March  i-May  10,  1992 

Stedelijk  Museum  Amsterdam 
June  5-August  23,  1992 

Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum 
September  25-December  15,  1992 

Lufthansa  German  Airlines  is 

the  major  sponsor  of  this  exhibition 



The  Politics  of  the  Avant-Garde 

Paul  Wood 

The  Artisan  and  the  Prophet: 
Marginal  Notes  on  Two  Artistic  Careers 

Vasilii  Rakitin 

The  Critical  Reception  of  the  0.70  Exhibition: 
Malevich  and  Benua 

Jane  A.  Sharp 

Unovis:  Epicenter  of  a  New  World 

Aleksandra  Sbatskikh 


A  Brief  History  of  Obmokhu 

Aleksandra  Shatskikh 

The  Transition  to  Constructivism 

Christina  Lodder 

The  Place  of  Vkhutemas  in  the 
Russian  Avant-Garde 

Natal "ia  Adaskina 

What  Is  Linearism? 

Aleksandr  Lavrent'ev 

The  Constructivists: 

Modernism  on  the  Way  to  Modernization 

Hubertus  Gassner 

The  Third  Path  to  Non-Objectivity 

Evgenii  Kovtun 

COLOR  PLATES  319-482 

The  Poetry  of  Science: 
Projectionism  and  Electroorganism 

Irina  Lebedeva 

Terms  of  Transition: 

The  First  Discussional  Exhibition 

and  the  Society  of  Easel  Painters 

Charlotte  Douglas 

The  Russian  Presence  in  the  1924 
Venice  Biennale 

Vivian  Endicott  Barnett 

The  Creation  of  the  Museum  of 
Painterly  Culture 

Svetlana  Dzhafarova 

Fragmentation  versus  Totality: 
The  Politics  of  (De)framing 

Margarita  Tupitsyn 

COLOR  PLATES  483-733 

The  Art  of  the  Soviet  Book,  1922-32 

Susan  Compton 

Soviet  Porcelain  of  the  1920s: 
Propaganda  Tool 

Nina  Lobanov-Rostovsky 

Russian  Fabric  Design,  1928-32 

Charlotte  Douglas 

How  Meierkhol'd  Never  Worked  with  Tatlin, 
and  What  Happened  as  a  Result 

Elena  Rakitin 

Nonarchitects  in  Architecture 

Ana tolii  Strigalev 

Mediating  Creativity  and  Politics:  Sixty  Years 
of  Architectural  Competitions  in  Russia 

Catherine  Cooke 

Index  of  Artists  and  Works 


Selection  Committee 


Vivian  Endicott  Barnett,  Christiane  Bauermeister, 
Charlotte  Douglas,  Svetlana  Dzhafarova,  Hubertus  Gassner, 
Evgenii  Kovtun,  Irina  Lebedeva,  Evgeniia  Petrova, 
Alia  Povelikhina,  Elena  and  Vasilii  Rakitin,  Jane  A.  Sharp, 
Anatolii  Strigalev,  Margarita  Tupitsyn 

Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum,  New  York 
Thomas  Krens,  Director 
Michael  Govan,  Deputy  Director 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow 

Iurii  Korolev,  Director 

Lidiia  Iovleva,  Deputy  Director 

Lidiia  Romashkova,  Chief  Registrar  and  Deputy  Director 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 
Vladimir  Gusev,  Director 
Evgeniia  Petrova,  Deputy  Director 

Scbirn  Kunsthalle  Frankfurt 
Christoph  Vitali,  Director 

Vuchetich  A 11- Union  Art  Production  Association  (WART) 
Pavel  Khoroshilov,  Former  Director 
Aleksandr  Ursin,  Director 
Valentin  Rivkind,  Deputy  Director 

Ministry  of  Culture,  Russian  Federation 

Evgenii  Sidorov,  Minister 

Aleksandr  Shkurko,  Deputy  Minister 

Vera  Lebedeva,  Head  of  Museum  Department 

Anna  Kolupaeva,  Assistant  to  Head  of  Museum  Department 

Former  Ministry  of  Culture,  USSR 

Nikolai  Gubenko,  Minister 

Genrikh  Popov,  Head  of  Department  of  Fine  Arts 

and  Museums 
Lidiia  Zaletova,  Senior  Curator  of  Exhibitions 

The  Great  Utopia 

The  Russian  and  Soviet  Avant-Garde. 

Guggenheim  Museum  Project  Staff 

Project  Management 

Michael  Govan,  Deputy  Director 

Jane  A.  Sharp,  Project  Associate  Curator 

Curatorial  Staff 

Natasha  Kurchanova,  Curatorial  Assistant 
Sabine  Lange,  Curatorial  Consultant 
Emily  Locker,  Administrative  Assistant 
Katherine  Glaser,  Administrative  Assistant 
Nataliya  Bregel,  Administrative  Assistant 

Exhibition  Design 

Zaha  Hadid  with  Patrik  Schumacher 

Pamela  Myers,  Administrator  for  Exhibitions 

and  Programming 
Ali  Hocek,  Architectural  Design  Associate 
Cara  Galowitz,  Graphic  Designer 


Anthony  Calnek,  Managing  Editor 

Jane  Bobko,  Project  Editor 

Victoria  Ellison,  Project  Associate  Editor  (glossary) 

Kathleen  Friello,  Research  Assistant 

Robert  Hemenway  (copy  editor) 

Massimo  Vignelli  (design) 

Charles  Davey  (design  and  production) 

Russian  Project  Staff 

Coordination  of  Russian  Loans 

Vuchetich  All-Union  Artistic  Production  Association: 

Svetlana  Dzhafarova 

Faina  Balakhovskaia 

Zel'fira  Tregulova 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery: 
Irina  Lebedeva  (Paintings) 
Natal 'ia  Sokolova 
Elena  Zhukova  (Graphics) 

State  Russian  Museum: 
Evgeniia  Petrova 
Elena  Ivanova  (Porcelain) 
Natal'ia  Kozyreva  (Graphics) 
Liudmila  Vostretsova  (Graphics) 

Additional  Coordination 

Ol'ga  Kupriashchina,  VUART 

Natal'ia  Pchelkina,  Lenin  Library 

Galina  Drezgunova,  Central  State  Archive  for 

Literature  and  Art 
Liubov'  Rodnova 
Ol'ga  Zemliakova 
Aleksandr  Lavrent'ev,  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and 

V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive 
Dotina  Tiurina,  State  Shchusev  Museum 
Alia  Povelikhina,  Museum  of  the  History  of  the 

City  of  St.  Petersburg 
Irina  Duksina,  State  Bakhrushin  Museum 
Larissa  Karogodina,  Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum 
Marianna  Bubchikova,  State  Historical  Museum 
Elena  Karavaeva,  VUART 

Russian  catalogue  material 
Svetlana  Dzhafarova 
Faina  Balakhovskaia 
Zel'fira  Tregulova 

Manuscript  preparation: 
Andrei  Sarab'ianov 
Irina  Sorvina 

Albright-Knox  Art  Gallery,  Buffalo,  New  York 

All-Russian  Museum  of  Decorative  and  Folk  Art,  Moscow 

Art  Co.  Ltd.  (Collection  George  Costakis) 

Astrakhan  Kustodiev  Picture  Gallery 

Collection  Thea  Berggren,  Chicago 

Collection  Merrill  C.  Berman 

La  Boetie,  Inc.,  New  York 

The  British  Library  Board 

Central  State  Archive  of  the  October  Revolution,  Moscow 

Central  State  Archive  for  Literature  and  Art,  Moscow 

Collection  Andrei  Chernikhov,  Moscow 

International  Iakov  Chernikhov  Foundation 

Collection  Elaine  Lustig  Cohen 

Collection  of  Prints  and  Drawings, 

The  Federal  Institute  of  Technology,  Zurich 
College  of  Architecture  and  Landscape  Architecture, 

University  of  Minnesota 
Dagestan  Museum  of  the  Arts,  Makhachkala 
Dallas  Museum  of  Art 

Collection  A.  A.  and  E.  D.  Drevin,  Moscow 
Collection  V.  A.  Dudakov  and  M.  K.  Kashuro,  Moscow 
Collection  Zoia  Ender-Masetti,  Rome 
Rosa  Esman  Gallery,  New  York 
Eric  Estorick  Family  Collection 
Ex  Libris  Gallery,  New  York 
Galerie  Natan  Fedorowskij,  Berlin 
Barry  Friedman  Ltd.,  New  York 
Galerie  de  France,  Paris 

Galleria  internazionale  d'arte  moderna,  Ca'  Pesaro,  Venice 
Collection  Hubertus  Gassner,  Kassel 
Gilman  Paper  Company  Collection 
Collection  John  Githens,  New  York 
Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzynska-Bscher,  Cologne 
Galerie  Gmurzynska,  Cologne 
Peggy  Guggenheim  Collection,  Venice 
Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum,  New  York 
Wilhelm  Hack  Museum,  Ludwigshafen 
Galerie  Hoffmann,  Friedberg, 

Dokumentation  konstruktive  Kunst 
Houk  Friedman,  New  York 
Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York 
Collection  G.  Iu.  Ivakin,  Kiev 
Collection  Helix  Art  Center,  San  Diego 
Historical-Architectural  Archive,  Moscow 
Irkutsk  Regional  Art  Museum 

Ivanovo  State  Museum  of  History  and  the  Revolution 
Annely  Juda  Fine  Art,  London 
Collection  M.  L.  Khidekel1,  St.  Petersburg 
Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum 
Collection  L.  B.  Labas,  Moscow 
Galerie  Alex  Lachmann,  Cologne 
Lenin  Library,  Moscow 
Los  Angeles  County  Museum  of  Art 
Luchkovskii  Collection,  Khar'kov 

Lenders  to  the 

Maiakovskii  Museum,  Moscow 

Martin  Muller  Inc.  and  Modernism  Inc.,  San  Francisco 

Collection  Maslach  Family 

Collection  M.  Miturich,  Moscow 

Mukhina  College  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 

Collection  E.  V.  Murina  and  D.  V.  Sarab'ianov,  Moscow 

Musee  national  d'art  moderne, 

Centre  Georges  Pompidou,  Paris 
Museum  Fridericianum,  Kassel 
Museum  fur  Gestaltung,  Basel,  Plakatsammlung 
Museum  fur  Gestaltung,  Zurich 
Museum  Ludwig  (Collection  Ludwig,  Cologne) 
Museum  of  Art  and  History,  Serpukhov 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Ekaterinburg 
Museum  of  the  Air  Force,  Monino 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York 
Muzeum  Okregove,  Chehn 
Muzeum  Sztuki,  Lodz 
Collection  A.  Nakov,  Paris 
Collection  Lew  Nussberg,  United  States 
Galerie  Alice  Pauli,  Lausanne 
Collection  A.  V.  Povelikhina,  St.  Petersburg 
Primor'e  Regional  Picture  Gallery,  Vladivostok 
Regional  Art  Museum,  Kaluga 
Regional  Art  Museum,  Kirov 
Regional  Deineka  Picture  Gallery,  Kursk 
Regional  Historical  Museum,  Slobodskoe 
Resource  Collections,  The  Getty  Center  for  the  History  of  Art 

and  the  Humanities 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow 
The  Rothschild  Art  Foundation,  Baltimore 
Collection  K.  Rozhdestvenskii,  Moscow 
Collection  Rubinshtein  and  Moroz,  Moscow 
St.  Petersburg  State  Museum  of  Theater  and  Musical  Arts 
Galerie  Dr.  Istvan  Schlegl,  Zurich 
Collection  Il'ia  Sel'vinskii  Family,  Moscow 
Spencer  Collection,  The  New  York  Public  Library, 

Astor,  Lenox  and  Tilden  Foundations 
Staatliche  Galerie  Moritzburg,  Halle 
Staatliche  Museen  Preussischer  Kulturbesitz, 

Nationalgalerie,  Berlin 
Staatsgalerie,  Stuttgart 

Stadtische  Galerie  im  Lenbachhaus,  Munich 
State  Architecture  and  Art  Museum,  Rostov-Iaroslavskii 
State  Art  Gallery,  Kursk 
State  Art  Museum,  Iaroslavl' 
State  Art  Museum,  Nizhnii  Novgorod 
State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia,  Riga 
State  Art  Museum,  Omsk 
State  Art  Museum,  Rostov-on-Don 
State  Art  Museum,  Samara 
State  Art  Museum,  Ulianovsk 
State  Bakhrushin  Museum,  Moscow 
State  Historical  Museum,  Moscow 

State  Kasteev  Kazakhstan  Museum  of  Arts,  Alma-Ata 

State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar 

State  Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Nizhnii  Tagil 

State  Museum  of  Russian  Art,  Kiev 

State  Museum  of  the  Academy  of  Arts,  St.  Petersburg 

State  Museum  of  the  History  of  the  City  of  St.  Petersburg 

State  Museum  of  Ukrainian  Art,  Kiev 

State  Mustafaev  Azerbaijan  Museum  of  Art,  Baku 

State  Radishchev  Art  Museum,  Saratov 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 

State  Shchusev  Museum,  Moscow 

State  Surikov  Art  Museum,  Krasnoiarsk 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow 

Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam 

Galerie  Stolz,  Cologne 

Collection  F.  Syrkina,  Moscow 

TECTA  &  Stuhlmuseum  Burg  Beverungen,  Lauenforde 

Theatermuseum  der  Universitat  zu  Koln 

Tobol'sk  State  Historical-Architectural  Museum,  Tobol'sk 

Trekhgornaia  Textile  Mill,  Moscow 

Tsaritsyno  Museum  of  Applied  Arts,  Moscow 

Union  of  Architects,  Moscow 

University  of  East  Anglia  Collection 

Uzbekistan  State  Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Tashkent 

Collection  Vasil'ev,  St.  Petersburg 

Collection  von  Bergmann,  Dusseldorf 

Vuchetich  All-Union  Artistic  Production  Association,  Moscow 

Collection  Thomas  P.  Whitney 

Collection  Nina  Williams,  England 

Yale  University  Art  Gallery 

Collection  Dieter  Zaha,  Kassel 

Collection  L.  Zhadova  Family,  Moscow 

Collection  Ziersch,  Munich 

Anonymous  lenders  from  England,  Germany,  Italy, 
Russia,  Switzerland,  and  the  United  States 

Even  on  purely  stylistic  and  formal  grounds,  the  Russian  and 
Soviet  avant-garde's  contribution  to  Modern  art  merits  the 
scale  and  depth  of  the  present  exhibition.  Kazimir  Malevich 
and  Vladimir  Tatlin,  the  avant-garde's  leaders,  brought 
Modernism  to  its  logical  conclusions  even  as  they  first  fully 
internalized  and  reinvented  it  in  a  Russian  context.  Yet  those 
ideas  became  starting  points.  The  laboratory  of  Constructivist 
and  Suprematist  experiments  yielded  visual  inventions  that 
still  influence  art,  architecture,  and  design. 

In  his  Chernyi  kvadrat  (Black  Square,  1915),  Malevich 
resolved  the  Modernist  struggle  to  reduce  form  to  its  essence; 
and  when,  for  the  0.10  exhibition  (Petrograd,  1915-16),  the 
artist  hung  the  work  in  the  place  traditionally  reserved  for  a 
religious  icon,  he  aspired  to  replace  the  existing  order  with  a 
new  artistic  ideal.  Reinterpreting  European  Cubism,  Malevich 
applied  the  abstracting  process  to  reduce  the  substance  of  the 
world  to  primary  forms,  revealing  an  entirely  other 
dimension — an  absolute,  non-objective  world.  With  his 
Kontr-rel'ef  (Counter-Relief ,  1914-15),  Tatlin  took  the  fractured 
planes  of  Cubism  in  a  different  but  still  logical  direction — into 
real  tangible  space. 

Somewhere  between  the  absolute  spiritual  idealism  of 
Malevich's  Suprematism  and  the  dramatic  reality  of  Tatlin's 
reliefs  is  that  Utopian  sensibility,  within  a  historical  context  of 
political  and  social  upheaval,  which  released  Russian  art  from 
the  studio  and  onto  the  street,  and  which  endowed  it  with  a 
desire  to  pervade  every  aspect  of  life — even  to  become  an  agent 
of  social  change. 

The  term  "utopia"  carries  with  it  the  spirit  of  the  avant- 
garde's  project  to  place  art  at  the  service  of  greater  social 
objectives  and  to  create  harmony  and  order  in  the  chaotic 
world  around  them.  Given  the  course  history  has  taken  in 
Russia  in  the  twentieth  century,  "utopia"  also  has  connotations 
of  impracticality;  idealism  is  good  in  theory,  but  not  in 
practice.  Few  images  in  the  Russian  avant-garde  are  more 
compelling  than  Tatlin's  construction  of  an  Everyman's 
flying  machine,  Letatlin  (1929-32),  intended  to  be  the 
utilitarian  marriage  of  art,  science,  and  technology — now,  as 
a  historical  relic,  it  recalls  the  legend  of  Icarus,  who  flew  too 
close  to  the  sun. 

One  thing  that  can  be  gleaned  from  the  scant  but  growing 
critical  analysis  of  the  Russian  avant-garde — the  "Great 
Experiment,"  as  pioneering  art  historian  Camilla  Gray  called 
it — is  that  single  interpretations  are  impossible  to  maintain. 
Essential  questions  persist,  relevant  to  our  own  predicament: 
What  is  the  potential  for  art — an  essential  ambition  of  the 
avant-garde — to  infiltrate  and  transform  everyday  life?  Have 
traditional  painting  and  sculpture,  as  Rodchenko  proposed, 
reached  the  end  of  their  cultural  development  in  favor  of  more 
utilitarian  communications  media  and  practical  arts?  What  is 
the  relationship  between  art  and  politics?  Can  an  aesthetic 
pluralism  be  established  and  institutionalized? 

In  planning  the  exhibition,  we  identified  three  primary  phases 

of  the  avant-garde  in  Russia: 

•First,  the  hegemony  established  by  avant-garde  artists 
committed  to  Suprematism  and  to  Tatlin's  culture  of 
materials  before  the  1917  October  Revolution,  and  the 
impact  of  their  theories  in  defining  cultural  policies  after 
the  Revolution. 

•Second,  the  development  in  the  1920s  of  work  by  artists 
who  sought  to  project  principles  of  construction  and  design 
into  rationalized  aesthetic  systems  through  pedagogical 
programs  at  Moscow's  Vkhutemas/Vkhutein  (the  Higher 
Artistic-Technical  Workshops/Higher  Artistic-Technical 
Institute)  and  group  shows  such  as  the  Obmokhu  (Society 
of  Young  Artists)  exhibitions  and  the  Pervaia  diskussionnaia 
vystavka  ob  "edinenii  aktivnogo  revoliutsionnogo  iskusstva  (First 
Discussional  Exhibition  of  Associations  of  Active  Revolutionary 
Art,  Moscow,  1924). 

•And  third,  the  pluralism  of  the  1920s — the  emergence  of 
new  debates  over  figuration  in  the  media  of  photography, 
photomontage,  and  painting,  and  the  impact  of 
Constructivist  theory  upon  architectural  practice. 

Our  exhibition,  The  Great  Utopia,  attempts  to  map  out  the 
vast  territory  of  vanguard  artistic  production  in  Russia, 
beginning  in  1915  with  the  0.10  exhibition,  where  Malevich's 
square  and  Tatlin's  relief  were  first  shown,  and  ending  in  1932 
with  the  competition  for  the  Palace  of  Soviets  in  Moscow  and 
the  First  Five- Year  Plan,  at  which  time  the  "left  wing"  in  art 
lost  credibility  in  the  face  of  Stalin's  stern  program  to  build  an 
industrialized  Soviet  Union. 

At  its  core,  the  exhibition  emphasizes  the  utopianism  of  the 
vanguard  project,  the  tensions  between  radical  affirmations  of 
the  autonomy  of  art  and  the  projection  of  aesthetic  concerns 
into  daily  life  through  design;  the  exhibition  attempts  to 
contextualize  issues  of  style  by  emphasizing  the  institutional 
and  ideological  foundations  for  much  of  the  production  of 
vanguard  work. 

By  representing  the  plurality  of  approaches  to  Utopian 
abstraction,  the  curators  demonstrate  the  essential  continuity 
of  the  vanguard  project  before  and  after  the  Revolution,  in 
terms  of  individual  artists'  contributions  and  in  their  collective 
(and  competitive)  struggle  to  play  leading  roles  in  the 
formation  of  a  new  consciousness. 

This  exhibition  presents  a  nearly  complete  sample  of  the 
artistic  documents  of  the  Russian  and  Soviet  avant-garde — laid 
out  in  all  of  their  diversity,  beauty,  and  contradictions.  The 
exhibition  encompasses  almost  all  media,  with  the  notable 
exception  of  film,  which  it  was  not  possible  to  exhibit  because 
the  renovation  of  the  Guggenheim  Museum  theater  has  been 
postponed.  No  exhibition  on  the  topic  has  included  such  a 
comprehensive  representation  of  artists  and  of  works  drawn 
from  so  many  collections.  Seventy  percent  of  the  objects  were 


borrowed  from  Russian  museums  and  private  collections,  as 
well  as  from  museums  in  Uzbekistan,  Azerbaijan,  Ukraine,  and 
Latvia.  Many  of  the  works  on  view  are  being  seen  for  the  first 
time  by  American  and  European  audiences. 

The  scale  of  the  exhibition  is  a  function  of  an  urgent  need 
we  felt  for  the  full  scope  of  the  period  to  be  presented  at  once, 
for  the  benefit  both  of  the  devoted  scholars  and  students  of  the 
avant-garde  who  continue  to  define  its  complex  history  and 
circumstances  and  of  a  larger  public  that  will  be  able  to 
comprehend  the  breadth  and  the  uniqueness  of  this  movement 
in  the  history  of  art. 

The  task  of  assembling  such  a  broad  range  of  material  from 
such  a  wide  range  of  sources  demanded  a  unique  organizational 
structure.  Obviously,  no  single  curator  commands  a  detailed 
expertise  encompassing  all  of  the  works  and  their  myriad 
locations,  many  of  them  obscure.  A  number  of  sources  had  to 
be  combined  simply  to  create  a  working  checklist  from  which 
to  draw  a  final  selection. 

In  addition,  since  the  history  of  the  avant-garde  in  Russia, 
in  comparison  to  the  history  of  European  Modernism,  is  still  in 
part  uncharted,  no  single  interpretation  is  dominant.  From  its 
inception,  the  exhibition  necessarily  demanded  a  variety  of 
perspectives  in  order  to  select  and  shape  its  content. 

The  team  of  curators  and  experts  appointed  in  June  1989 
defined  the  conceptual  guidelines  for  the  exhibition  and  culled 
working  lists  of  literally  thousands  of  objects  from  Western 
and  Russian  public  and  private  collections.  The  team  of 
museum  and  independent  curators  from  Russia,  Germany,  and 
the  United  States — Vivian  Endicott  Barnett,  Christiane 
Bauermeister,  Charlotte  Douglas,  Svetlana  Dzhafarova, 
Hubertus  Gassner,  Evgenii  Kovtun,  Irina  Lebedeva,  Evgeniia 
Petrova,  Alia  Povelikhina,  Elena  and  Vasilii  Rakitin,  Jane  A. 
Sharp,  Anatolii  Strigalev,  and  Margarita  Tupitsyn — was  chosen 
to  encompass  a  variety  of  specializations  and  backgrounds. 
Over  a  period  of  almost  three  years  and  in  meetings  in  Moscow, 
St.  Petersburg,  Frankfurt,  and  New  York,  the  lists  were 
narrowed  down  to  a  group  of  over  900  works  that  the 
curatorial  team  felt  would  provide  the  most  comprehensive  and 
coherent  overview  of  the  period. 

It  was  also  a  post-Cold  War  spirit  of  collaboration  that 
inspired  our  effort  to  structure  a  project  that  would  be  a  joint 
venture  of  American,  European,  and  Soviet/Russian  expertise 
and  organizational  foundations.  The  idea  originated  in  the 
spring  of  1988,  when  Eduard  Shevardnadze,  then  Soviet  Foreign 
Minister,  toured  the  Guggenheim.  That  summer  in  Moscow,  a 
first  official  protocol  was  created  to  initiate  the  project. 

As  the  exhibition  was  being  organized,  the  Soviet  Union 
underwent  the  most  dramatic  and  overwhelming  changes  since 
the  Bolshevik  Revolution.  With  the  emergence  of  perestroika, 
a  great  sense  of  optimism  fueled  the  establishment  of  the 
exhibition  as  a  joint  East- West  venture.  Further  changes  in 
Russia  meant  the  reorganization  of  cultural  as  well  as 
governmental  bureaucracies,  which  could  have  halted  the 
project,  were  it  not  for  the  patience,  dedication,  and. 

communication  of  all  of  the  institutions  involved,  including 
the  continued  participation  of  the  Russian  (formerly  Soviet) 
Foreign  Ministry  represented  especially  by  Anatolii 
Adamishin,  now  Ambassador  to  Italy,  and  by  Vladimir 
Petrovsky,  Under-Secretary  General  of  the  United  Nations, 
whose  deep  involvement  with  international  cultural  issues 
dates  at  least  to  his  attendance  at  the  inauguration  of  the 
Guggenheim  Museum's  Frank  Lloyd  Wright  building  in  1959. 

The  two  major  Russian  museums — the  State  Tret'iakov 
Gallery  in  Moscow,  led  by  Iurii  Korolev,  and  the  State  Russian 
Museum  in  St.  Petersburg,  led  by  Vladimir  Gusev  and  Deputy 
Director  Evgeniia  Petrova — committed  their  staffs  and  their 
important  collections  to  this  exhibition.  The  Vuchetich  All- 
Union  Artistic  Production  Association  (VUART) — under 
former  Director  Pavel  Khoroshilov,  Director  Aleksandr  Ursin, 
and  Deputy  Director  Valentin  Rivkind — took  on  the  very 
difficult  task  of  coordinating  loans  from  over  fifty  provincial 
and  other  museums  throughout  the  former  Soviet  Union.  The 
Ministry  of  Culture  of  the  Russian  Federation — led  by 
Minister  Evgenii  Sidorov  and  Head  of  Museum  Department 
Vera  Lebedeva — lent  their  critical  official  support  and 
logistical  assistance,  as  had  the  former  Ministry  of  Culture  of 
the  USSR,  led  by  Nikolai  Gubenko  with  assistance  from 
Genrikh  Popov  and  Lidiia  Zaletova. 

Christoph  Vitali,  Director  of  the  Schirn  Kunsthalle, 
Frankfurt — one  of  the  most  prominent  cultural  institutions  in 
Germany  and  also  the  first  host  of  this  exhibition— was  the 
critical  link  in  Europe  in  all  aspects  of  negotiation  and 

At  the  Guggenheim,  all  of  the  selection  lists,  research, 
loans,  and  catalogue  contents  were  coordinated  over  the  course 
of  three  years  by  a  competent  and  specialized  staff  led  by  Jane 
A.  Sharp,  Project  Associate  Curator.  With  her  curatorial 
expertise,  impressive  facility  with  the  Russian  language,  and 
thorough  approach  to  the  exhibition's  organization  on  every 
level,  Jane  Sharp  was  the  hub  holding  together  the  project's 
many  spokes.  Natasha  Kurchanova,  Curatorial  Assistant, 
managed  the  English/Russian  database  of  thousands  of  objects 
and  provided  important  research  and  loan  coordination  with 
the  further  assistance  of  Sabine  Lange,  Emily  Locker,  Katherine 
Glaser,  and  Nataliya  Bregel.  Linda  Thacher,  Associate 
Registrar,  professionally  handled  the  endless  details  and 
logistics  of  the  international  transport  of  objects.  Erik  Quam, 
Information  Systems  Analyst,  designed  and  supported  the 
database  related  to  the  works  of  art. 

In  Moscow,  a  parallel  organization  was  coordinated  at 
VUART  by  Svetlana  Dzhafarova,  Zel'fira  Tregulova,  and  Faina 
Balakhovskaia,  without  whose  professional  work  and  tireless 
effort  the  exhibition  simply  would  not  have  been  possible. 
They,  in  concert  with  Deputy  Director  Evgeniia  Petrova  at  the 
State  Russian  Museum  and  Curators  Irina  Lebedeva  and 
Ekaterina  Seleznova  at  the  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery  and 
representatives  of  other  museums,  coordinated  the  loans  of  all 
objects  in  the  former  Soviet  Union. 

The  catalogue  itself  was  a  monumental  and  unique  project 
begun  over  three  years  ago.  The  content,  determined  by  the 
curatorial  team,  was  intended  to  make  the  book  a 
comprehensive  reference  that  would  be  of  value  for  years  to 
come.  Authors  include  not  only  members  of  the  working  group 
but  such  well-known  scholars  as  Natal'ia  Adaskina,  Susan 
Compton,  Nina  Lobanov-Rostovksy,  Christina  Lodder, 
Aleksandra  Shatskikh,  and  Paul  Wood.  Managing  Editor 
Anthony  Calnek  oversaw  the  production  of  what  is  the  most 
ambitious  catalogue  in  the  Guggenheim's  history.  The  editing 
of  the  book  was  handled  with  extraordinary  skill  and 
dedication  by  Jane  Bobko.  The  talented  American  catalogue 
team  also  included  Victoria  Ellison,  Associate  Editor  for  the 
glossary,  Robert  Hemenway,  copy  editor,  and  Charles  Davey, 
production  and  design  consultant,  as  well  as  Research  Assistant 
Kathleen  Friello.  Massimo  Vignelli  created  the  simple  and 
elegant  catalogue  design  in  keeping  with  his  new  graphic 
system  for  the  Guggenheim. 

A  complementary  catalogue  team  worked  in  Russia, 
coordinated  by  Svetlana  Dzhafarova,  Zel'fira  Tregulova,  and 
Faina  Balakhovskaia  and  including  editors  Andrei  Sarab'ianov 
and  Irina  Sorvina. 

The  extraordinary  design  of  the  exhibition  is  due  to 
architect  Zaha  Hadid,  who,  with  Pamela  Myers  at  the 
Guggenheim,  made  the  exhibition  accessible  and  provocative 
in  the  Frank  Lloyd  Wright  space  and  new  Gwathmey  Siegel 
and  Associates  tower.  The  exhibition  marks  the  first  occasion 
on  which  the  two  spaces  have  been  used  as  a  single  entity. 

All  in  all,  the  exhibition  touched  almost  every  person  in 
each  of  the  organizing  institutions  in  New  York,  in  Russia,  and 
in  Frankfurt. 

Perhaps  most  important,  the  exhibition  is  the  product  of 
the  cooperation  of  lenders — museums  and  private  collections. 
The  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery  and  State  Russian  Museum 
treasures  form  the  core  of  the  exhibition,  surrounded  by  works 
from  Russia,  Europe,  and  the  United  States.  The  central 
contribution  from  the  collection  of  the  late  George  Costakis, 
both  from  his  estate  and  from  the  group  of  works  he 
generously  donated  to  the  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  deserves 
special  note.  Costakis,  whose  long  association  with  the 
Guggenheim  included  the  1981  exhibition  of  his  holdings, 
acquired  and  protected  the  richest  collection  of  its  kind  at  a 
time  when  almost  no  institutional  attention  was  being  paid  to 
this  revolutionary  chapter  in  the  history  of  art. 

The  exhibition  represents  the  most  complex  logistical  effort 
ever  undertaken  by  the  Guggenheim,  involving  more  people 
and  institutions  around  the  world  than  any  other  of  the 
museum's  projects  and  requiring  sponsorship  from  the  start.  It 
can  often  be  simply  a  formality  to  acknowledge  a  sponsor.  In 
this  case,  Lufthansa  German  Airlines  cannot  be  identified 
merely  as  an  exhibition  sponsor  with  a  natural  regard  for 
culture,  although  it  is  one  of  the  most  active  corporate 
supporters  of  cultural  events  throughout  the  United  States, 
Europe,  and  Russia.  Rather,  Lufthansa  served  as  a 
collaborator — bringing  people  together,  carrying  precious 
information  as  well  as  people  and  art,  and  providing  assistance 
(including  translation  and  communications)  in  negotiations. 
Jiirgen  Weber,  President  and  CEO,  is  dedicated,  as  was  his 
predecessor,  Heinz  Ruhnau,  to  a  world  linked  by  the  high 
technology  of  air  travel  as  well  as  by  the  essential  fabric  of 
cultural  communication.  That  Lufthansa's  dedication  to  culture 
is  deeply  rooted  in  its  mission  to  connect  people  is  no  more 
evident  than  in  the  work  of  Nicolas  II  ji ne,  Director  of  Public 
Affairs,  who  was  present  with  Dr.  Heinrich  Klotz,  Director  of 
the  Zentrum  fur  Kunst  und  Medientechnologie,  at  the 
inception  of  the  project.  Through  his  equal  dedication  to 
people,  culture,  and  business,  Nic  Iljine  was  a  source  of 

expertise  and  inspiration  throughout  a  long  and  complex 

In  sum,  it  might  be  stated  that  the  urgency  and  importance 
of  this  unique  project  is  evidenced  by  the  extraordinary  hard 
work,  commitment,  and  faith  it  inspired  in  its  participants. 
Utopia  is  not  at  hand,  but  the  art  of  the  Russian  and  Soviet 
avant-garde  in  this  exhibition  may  plainly  demonstrate  some  of 
its  essential  components — that  a  blueprint  for  the  future  may 
be  more  likely  found  on  the  margins  of  our  consciousness  than 
at  its  center;  that  it  may  require  the  invention  of  a  new  starting 
point  (the  zero  form  of  Malevich's  Black  Square),  the 
progressive  involvement  of  every  stratum  of  society,  and  the 
engagement  with  a  diversity  of  changing  aesthetics  that 
becomes  the  foundation  of  a  practical  system  of  human 
communication  in  the  midst  of  a  changing  world. 

— Thomas  Krens,  Director 
Michael  Govan,  Deputy  Director 

The  Russian  avant-garde  is  a  chapter  of  art  history  which 
demands  a  higher  level  of  knowledge.  While  many  collections 
around  the  world  house  Russian  masterpieces  from  this  period 
and  many  worthy  publications  and  important  exhibitions  have 
presented  the  originality  of  Russian  culture  in  the  years  before 
and  after  the  October  Revolution,  these  collections  and  surveys 
have  only  highlighted  the  many  nuances  and  riches  of  this 
culture  that  remain  to  be  explored.  Moreover,  most  of  the 
exhibitions  focusing  on  the  Russian  avant-garde  have  discussed 
the  works  of  art  within  the  narrow  framework  of  the 
Revolution.  As  a  result,  artistic  processes  have  often  been 
neglected  in  favor  of  the  political  and  social  implications  of 
the  works. 

The  history  and  role  of  Russian  avant-garde  art  are  far  more 
complex.  These  artists,  despite  being  intimately  bound  by  the 
social  and  political  situation  of  their  country,  were  absorbed  as 
never  before  by  questions  of  pure  aesthetics.  The  world  of  the 
European  Modernists — a  world  which  had  opened  to  Russian 
artists  for  the  first  time  and  whose  development  they  followed 
with  lively  interest — combined  with  their  own  artistic, 
literary,  and  philosophical  heritage  to  create  a  unique  context 
for  innovative  creative  experiments. 

At  the  turn  of  the  century,  an  artistic  vocabulary  capable  of 
describing  all  possible  experiences  seemed  unquestionably  in 
place.  In  Russia,  the  newly  defined  world  order  and  life-style 
required  new  forms  of  expression.  While  the  artists  central  to 
the  vanguard  movement — Mikhail  Larionov,  Natal'ia 
Goncharova,  Vasilii  Kandinskii,  Kazimir  Malevich,  Pavel 
Filonov,  and  others — did  not  come  fully  into  their  own  with 
the  Revolution,  the  events  of  1917  focused  their  maturation.  In 
the  diversity  of  artistic  movements  in  Russia  from  1910  to 
1920,  two  principal  trends  can  be  clearly  discerned  and 
differentiated.  One  trend  describes  the  emotional-intuitive 
penetration  of  the  material  world,  and  the  other  tries  to 
understand  matters  through  a  rational-Constructivist  analysis. 
As  a  result,  the  initial  working  title  for  the  present  exhibition 
was  Construction  and  Intuition.  Although  this  title  was 
eventually  changed,  the  two  themes  helped  to  define  the 
concept  at  the  heart  of  the  exhibition:  the  tension  within  the 
Russian  avant-garde  between  rational  and  irrational 
experiences  and  representations  of  the  world. 

In  a  political  sense,  this  exhibition  comes  perhaps  too  late. 
Since  the  early  1980s,  the  idea  of  romantic  underpinnings  to 
the  Revolution  has  lost  popularity.  Yet  the  artistic  might  of 
this  era,  with  its  gathering  of  creative  energies  and 
investigations,  has  continued  to  hold  its  ground  against  more 
short-lived  political  ideologies  and  economies.  It  is  therefore 
that  much  more  important  for  the  public  to  be  able  to  see  for 
the  first  time  the  breadth  of  Russian  avant-garde  art  without 
a  background  of  political  fervor — to  see  it  in  peace  and  to  be 
able  to  measure  fully  its  place  in  the  development  of  a:t  in 
our  world. 

Our  heartfelt  thanks  to  our  partners  in  this  project,  Thomas 
Krens,  Director  of  the  Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum  in 
New  York  and  the  Peggy  Guggenheim  Collection  in  Venice; 
Michael  Govan,  Deputy  Director  of  the  Guggenheim  Museum; 
and  Christoph  Vitali,  Director  of  the  Schirn  Kunsthalle 

American,  German,  and  Russian  experts  have  contributed 
to  extensive  research  and  to  developing  the  complex  thematic 
structure  of  the  exhibition.  This  was  not  only  a  fruitful 
collaboration  for  the  exhibition  but  also  a  personal 
accomplishment  for  each  individual  involved. 

Equal  thanks  are  due  to  the  sponsor  of  the  exhibition, 
Lufthansa  German  Airlines;  to  Nicolas  Iljine,  Director  of 
Public  Affairs  at  Lufthansa,  who  followed  the  nearly  four  years 
of  preparations  with  great  sympathy,  involvement,  and 

patience;  to  the  former  Soviet  Ministry  of  Culture  and  its  staff; 
and  to  the  Vuchetich  All-Union  Artistic  Production 
Association  (VUART),  with  Valentin  Rivkind  at  the  helm. 

Finally,  we  are  tremendously  grateful  to  all  museums  and 
private  lenders  for  the  very  generous  gift  of  their  works  as  loans 
to  the  exhibition. 

— Vladimir  Gusev,  Director 

Evgeniia  Petrova,  Deputy  Director 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg 

Iurii  Korolev,  Director 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow 

Like  few  other  artistic  movements  of  this  century,  the  Russian 
avant-garde — with  its  group  of  young,  overwhelmingly 
enthusiastic,  and  energetic  artists — continues  to  excite, 
fascinate,  and  captivate. 

A  comprehensive  look  at  this  creative  period  between  1915 
and  1932  is  dramatically  presented  for  the  first  time  in  The 
Great  Utopia.  The  exhibition  opened  to  great  acclaim  at 
Frankfurt's  Schirn  Kunsthalle,  and  subsequently  at 
Amsterdam's  Stedelijk  Museum.  We  are  delighted  that  the 
show  can  now  be  seen  at  the  Solomon  R.  Guggenheim 
Museum  in  New  York,  the  final  venue  on  its  international 
tour.  Lufthansa  welcomes  another  opportunity  to  foster  cultural 
exchange  by  bringing  this  monumental  work  to  the 
handsomely  restored  and  newly  expanded  Guggenheim. 

The  Great  Utopia  brings  together  both  individuals  and 
works  of  art  in  an  international  exchange  of  culture.  Through 
its  support  of  the  exhibition  in  New  York,  Lufthansa  hopes  to 
demonstrate  its  commitment  to  worldwide  cultural 
communications.  We  feel  that  it  is  especially  important  to 
establish  ties  with  nations  that  have  recently  opened  their 
doors  to  the  rest  of  the  world.  That  is  why  our  airline  has 
expanded  its  services  to  Eastern  Europe.  And  through 
exhibitions  such  as  The  Great  Utopia,  we  hope  cultural  ties  with 
these  nations  will  also  flourish,  strengthening  human  relations 
and  furthering  mutual  understanding. 

— Jiirgen  Weber 

Chairman  of  the  Executive  Board 

Lufthansa  German  Airlines 


Editorial  Note 

Transliteration  of  Russian  and  Ukrainian  in  this  book  follows 
the  Library  of  Congress  system,  modified  by  the  omission  of 
diacritical  marks.  With  the  exception  of  artists  who  had 
substantial  careers  in  the  West  and  whose  names  would  be 
rendered  unrecognizable  by  transliteration  (such  as  Marc 
Chagall),  the  transliterated  form  of  Russian  names  is  used 
throughout  (Vasilii  Kandinskii,  for  example,  in  place  of  Vasily 
Kandinsky).  Russian  surnames  of  foreign  origin  have  not  been 
restored  to  their  Western  form  but  transliterated  (thus  Lancere 
rather  than  Lanceray).  The  names  of  non-Russian  artists  whose 
activity  was  concentrated  in  Russia  likewise  appear  in  their 
Russian  rather  than  native  form  (Gustav  Klutsis  rather  than 
Gustavs  Klucis). 

With  some  exceptions,  geographical  names  and  the  names 
of  institutions  follow  the  Russian  and  have  not  been 
anglicized.  Many  of  these  names,  moreover,  changed  during 
the  period  covered  herein;  since  August  1991,  in  the  wake  of 
developments  in  the  former  Soviet  Union,  many  have  changed 
yet  again.  The  city  founded  by  Peter  the  Great,  for  example, 
was  called  St.  Petersburg  until  August  1914,  Petrograd  until 
January  1924,  and  Leningrad  until  September  1991 — when  the 
name  St.  Petersburg  was  restored.  Such  fluctuations  are 
observed  in  these  pages,  where  the  choice  among  variant 
geographical  and  institutional  names  has  been  determined  by 

Renderings  of  the  names  of  individuals,  institutions,  and 
places,  as  well  as  renderings  of  Russian  words,  that  appear  in 
citations  from  published  English  sources  have  not  been  altered 
to  fit  the  prevailing  system  of  transliteration.  Nor  have  any 
"corrections"  been  made,  in  citations  from  artists'  statements 
and  manifestos,  of  the  nonstandard  capitalization  often  used 
for  rhetorical  purposes  in  such  documents. 

Dates  up  to  February  14,  1918,  are  given  according  to  the 
Julian  (or  Old  Style)  calendar,  and  after  that  according  to  the 
Gregorian  (or  New  Style)  calendar.  Before  1900,  the  Julian 
calendar  in  use  in  Russia  was  twelve  days  behind  the 
Gregorian;  from  1900  to  1918,  it  was  thirteen  days  behind. 

The  avant-garde  in  Russia  has  a  complex  history.  The  two 
essays  in  this  volume  that  tackle  the  chronology  of  Obmokhu 
(the  Society  of  Young  Artists)  are  evidence  of  the  scholarly 
dialogue  in  progress. 

Permission  was  granted  for  the  essays  by  Vivian  Endicott 
Barnett,  Susan  Compton,  Charlotte  Douglas,  Christina  Lodder, 
Jane  A.  Sharp,  Margarita  Tupitsyn,  and  Paul  Wood  to  appear 
first  in  English  in  De  Grote  Utopie,  published  by  the  Stedelijk 
Museum,  Amsterdam;  they  are  published  here  in  slightly 
different  form.  Vasilii  Rakitin's  essay  appears  here  in  an 
English  translation  different  from  that  published  in  De  Grote 

The  Politics  of  the 

Paul  Wood 

l  don't  know  how  radical  you  are  or  how  radical  I  am.  I  am  certainly 
not  radical  enough;  that  is,  one  must  always  try  to  be  as  radical  as 
reality  itself. 

— Lenin 

fig.  I 

Simplified  model  ofTatlin's  Monument  to  the  Third 

International  in  a  street  demonstration.  Moscow,  ca.  ip2y. 

After  many  decades  of  occlusion,  the  art  of  the  Russian  avant- 
garde  is  now  widely  available,  presented  with  a  clarity  and 
scope  which  must  once  have  seemed  impossible.  There  are 
monographs  on  each  of  the  major  figures,  and  for  some  artists 
more  than  one.  Extensive  international  exhibitions  of  their 
works  have  been  mounted.  These  have  been  accompanied  by 
surveys  revealing  interconnections  in  the  work  of  major  and 
minor  producers  alike.  Linked  to  such  exhibitions,  where  once 
a  scrap  of  misinformation  about  Constructivism  sufficed, 
weighty  catalogues  have  become  indispensable.  Certain  key 
documents  are  available  in  a  variety  of  collections,  frequently 
standing  as  monuments  in  their  own  right  to  the  ferment  of 
intellectual  activity  that  accompanied  the  avant-garde  practice. 
Furthermore,  the  main  contours  of  the  institutions  both  formal 
and  informal  which  exerted  such  a  decisive  influence  upon 
individual  production  have  been  filled  in  to  an  extent  which 
even  a  decade  ago  must  have  seemed  unlikely:  reorganizations 
at  Vkhutemas  (the  Higher  Artistic-Technical  Workshops), 
debates  at  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of  Artistic  Culture);  we  even 
know  how  many  carriages  the  agit  trains  had,  not  to  mention 
where  they  ran  and  what  function  they  fulfilled.  Scholarly 
articles  regularly  appear  in  a  range  of  journals,  often  linked  to 
detailed  doctoral  investigations.  Metaphors  of  trickles,  floods, 
even  avalanches  are  inadequate  to  describe  a  collective 
enterprise  of  almost  military  dimensions  to  lay  bare  the 
trammeled  soul  of  Soviet  avant-gardism.  If  present  trends 
continue,  by  the  end  of  the  century  Moscow  will  be  as 
academically  well  trodden  as  Montmartre.  Yet  this  is  a  century 
for  most  of  which  Russia  has  been  a  kind  of  intellectual  dark 
continent,  probed,  if  at  all,  by  hostile  Kremlinologists  rather 
than  sympathetic  students  of  a  vivid  cultural  constellation.  Are 
we  not  lucky,  then,  that  the  tenebrous  coils  of  prejudice  are 
finally  being  parted?  And,  of  course,  all  this  work,  from 
encyclopedic  summation  to  diligently  unearthed  fragment,  is 
valuable,  the  very  stuff  of  intellectual  advance.  Why,  then,  the 
rustle,  the  murmur,  the  thickening,  the  steady  coagulation  of 
the  sense  of  a  Problem? 

It  is,  after  all,  simply  put.  With  notable  exceptions,  studies 
of  the  Russian  avant-garde  have  become,  in  a  Kuhnian  sense, 
"normal  science."  And  yet  the  work  to  which  it  adverts  is 
anything  but.  This  is  not  an  insignificant  matter,  though  it  is 
not  a  very  widely  acknowledged  one.  It  is  a  problem  that  has 
always  existed  and  that  has  never  gone  away  but  just  seems  to 
have  become  invisible.  Like  some  otherwise  defenseless  creature 
in  a  hostile  environment,  the  question  of  the  politics  of  the 
avant-garde  has  blended  into  the  tangled  undergrowth  of  facts 
and  names,  research  grants,  footnotes,  and  scholarly 
paraphernalia.  Yet  there  are  sharp  teeth  lurking  here,  and 
narrow  eyes  peering  through  crevices  in  the  piles  of  documents. 
And  it  is  precisely  these  eyes,  both  menacing  and  beautiful, 
which  constitute  the  attraction  in  the  first  place.  The 
revolutionary  avant-garde  is  not  of  interest  for  its  normativity. 
Aleksandr  Blok  wasn't  joking  when  he  summoned  Europe  to 
the  "bright  feast  of  peace  and  brotherhood  and  labor"  with  the 
"strings  of  a  Scythian  lyre":  "Are  we  to  blame  if  your  rib  cages 
burst  /  beneath  our  paws'  impulsive  ardor?"  Blok's  warning 
could  doubtless  be  written  off  as  a  romantic  evocation  of  the 
Revolution's  most  backward  aspects — all  slave  girls,  wild 
horses,  and  Asiatic  jubilation — when  the  Revolution  was  really 
about  tractors  and  planning.  But  a  revolution  is  a  revolution, 
and  the  academic  researcher  padding  noiselessly  through 
carpeted  libraries  or,  indeed,  faxing  documents  from  one 
international  center  of  learning  to  another  would  do  well  to 
remember  that  Aleksandr  Rodchenko,  El  Lissitzky,  Varvara 
Stepanova,  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  Dziga  Vertov,  Gustav 
Klutsis,  and  the  rest,  working  in  conditions  of  privation  to 
begin  with  and  harsh  censorship  later,  were  all,  without 

exception,  explicitly  committed  to  working-class  revolution — 
out  of  which  a  new  order  of  international  socialism  would  arise. 
One  should  not  overlook  the  paradox  that  the  very  research 
which  progressively  reveals  the  contours  of  the  Soviet  avant- 
garde  is  predicated  on  the  historic  defeat  of  the  avant-garde's 
social  vision.  By  whom,  by  just  which  forces,  is  not  quite  so 
easy  to  say.  To  echo  the  sentiments  of  a  thinker  little 
acknowledged  in  these  late  days  of  cultural  studies:  "What  is 
to  be  done?" 

It  is  an  irony  upon  a  paradox  that  in  setting  out  to  answer 
the  question,  in  attempting  to  clarify  the  politics  of  the  avant- 
garde,  there  is  no  other  starting  point  than  this  unglamorous 
one,  this  place  where  we  are.  Our  starting  point  consists  of 
these  apparent  conclusions,  this  pile  of  books,  this  trail  of 
articles:  not,  after  all,  the  soul  of  revolutionary  Petrograd  but 
the  "soul"  of  the  bourgeois  academy.  The  Russian  avant-garde, 
Constructivism,  Socialist  Realism  even,  are  what  they  have 
been  made  to  mean  in  these  pages,  in  the  play  of  their  silences 
and  their  affirmations.  To  ponder  the  paradox  is,  in  effect,  a 
question  of  resistance:  resisting  various  normalizations  enforced 
by  the  history  our  own  culture  is  writing. 


It  is  quite  clear  that  one  of  the  central  factors  that  has  fueled 
historians'  widespread  desire  to  confront  the  Soviet  avant- 
garde — either  positively  or  negatively — is  its  proximity  to  the 
Russian  Revolution.  This  is  so  obvious  that  it  sounds  almost 
strange  to  insist  upon  it.  In  the  days  before  such  claims  lost 
their  vogue,  E.  H.  Carr  said  that  the  Revolution  had  been  the 
source  of  more  profound  repercussions  than  any  other  historical 
event  of  modern  times.  Be  that  as  it  may,  the  Revolution  has 
been  the  source  of  greatest  controversy  in  modern  times  at  the 
level  of  interpretation:  interpreters  range  from  the  inhabitants 
of  the  most  ethereal  superstructures  to  the  state  planners  and 
military  strategists  at  the  other  end  of  the  spectrum.  This 
controversy's  sheer  scale  has  increasingly  drawn  art  historians 
into  its  orbit,  though  motives  have,  of  course,  varied.  On  one 
side  there  has  been  what  amounts,  more  or  less,  to  a  myth  of 
buried  treasure:  avant-garde  artworks  from  the  heroic  period 
that  have  lain  in  attics  and  basements  for  decades  being  led 
blinking  into  the  light  of  modern  scholarship.  For  historians  of 
this  persuasion,  ideology  has  probably  counted  for  little  next  to 
the  glamour  of  the  quest,  which  can  range  from  a  tomb- 
robbing  lust  for  gold  in  its  darker  reaches  to  an  honorable 
desire  to  shed  light  on  a  lost  but  incontrovertibly  significant 
chapter  of  twentieth-century  art.  For  other  historians,  the 
ideological  factor  has  surely  played  an  important  role. 
Confronted  in  their  own  productive  lives,  within  and  without 
the  academy,  by  institutional  orthodoxies  requiring  resistance, 
they  find  that  the  art  of  the  most  thoroughgoing  of  all 
moments  of  resistance  holds  a  powerful  attraction.  Thus  for 
both  left-wing  and  liberal  historians,  the  relation  of  the  avant- 
garde  to  the  Revolution  has,  in  different  ways,  been  a  prime 
motivator:  either  to  recover  the  work  from  burial  by  the 
Revolution  understood  as  closure  or  to  restore  that  work  as 
evidence  of  the  Revolution's  heroic  challenge  to  orthodoxy  and 
stasis  across  the  board  of  human  endeavor,  before  its  rapid 

For  all  that,  the  precise  nature  of  the  avant-garde's 
relationship  to  the  Revolution  has  tended  to  remain 
underinvestigated.  This  is  the  case  despite  the  increasing  detail 
of  particular  studies,  as  well  as  the  enormously  deepened 
understanding  of  the  avant-garde's  technical  innovations — 
even  when  these  latter  have  been  read  in  terms  of  their 
significant  connection  to  the  revolutionary  project  of  social 
emancipation.  That  is  to  say,  as  the  historical  account  has 
developed  both  extensively  and  intensively,  the  question  of  the 

politics  of  the  avant-garde  has  been  left  relatively 
underresearched . 

This  is  due,  in  part,  to  the  simple  fact  of  gaps  in  the 
historical  record.  Until  the  1970s,  little  enough  was  available 
empirically.  As  recently  as  1983,  what  gave  Christina  Lodder's 
Russian  Constructivism  its  benchmark  status  was  preeminently 
the  fact  that  nobody  had  previously  brought  such  information 
to  light.  To  know  who  said  what  at  Inkhuk  in  1922,  let  alone 
be  able  to  fit  it  into  a  context  of  debate  on  key  technical  and 
theoretical  issues,  marked  of  itself  a  qualitative  advance.  The 
silence  cannot  be  laid  wholly  at  the  door  of  ignorance,  however. 
It  is,  to  a  greater  degree,  reflexive:  it  has  to  do  with  the 
ideological  commitments  and  blindnesses,  interests  and 
silences  (sometimes  explicit,  more  often  implicit,  if  not  deeply 
buried)  of  the  collective  academic  psyche  in  the  liberal- 
bourgeois  educational  institutions  of  the  late-capitalist  West. 
For  all  its  epochal  status,  outside  the  ranks  of  a  few  specialists 
the  historical  shape  of  the  Russian  Revolution  is  little  enough 
known;  and  for  each  lacuna  in  the  record  there  is  a  pathology  of 
mistrust,  uninterest,  and  fear  to  account  for  it. 

The  manner  in  which  the  avant-garde's  political  alignments 
have  been  represented  in  the  literature  may  be  generalized 
under  three  headings,  though  these  have  changed  over  time 
and,  obviously,  been  subject  to  inflection.  The  hegemonic 
response,  until  recently  at  least,  has  paradoxically  been  to 
dissociate  the  avant-garde  from  involvement  with 
revolutionary  politics.  This  "disengagement"  thesis  can  adopt 
various  forms.  Traditionally,  Constructivism,  in  the  sense  of  an 
avant-garde  art  practice  that  was  transmuted  into  a  more  direct 
cluster  of  interventions  into  daily  life  under  the  rubric  of  "art 
into  production,"  was  simply  ignored.  What  "Constructivism" 
tended  to  mean  was  an  international  subvariant  of  abstract 
sculpture  within  a  broadly  Modernist  tradition,  associated  with 
artists,  such  as  Naum  Gabo,  who  had  left  Russia  shortly  after 
the  Revolution.  Limited  and  misrepresentative  as  this  now 
seems,  it  is  sobering  to  recall  that  it  was  probably  the 
dominant  view  from  the  1930s  to  the  1970s — let  us  say,  from 
Alfred  Barr's  brief  and  ambiguous  homage  to  Lef  (the  Left 
Front  of  the  Arts)  in  1928  to  Camilla  Gray  in  1962.  Even  major 
figures  like  Rodchenko  were  little  known,  others  like  Klutsis 
not  at  all;  and  the  relations  of  such  work  to  an  intellectual  and 
political  program  simply  fell  outside  the  scope  of  what  passed 
for  the  history  of  modern  art.  Dark  days,  then,  whose  end  is 
not  to  be  regretted.  It  would,  however,  be  unwise  to  celebrate  a 
passage  into  light. 

A  small  selection  of  quite  recent  examples  will  suffice.  John 
Bowlt  has  established  a  reputation  at  the  head  of  his  field 
largely  through  his  efforts  to  establish  the  density  of  this 
period  of  Russian  artistic  culture,  the  coexistence  of  a  variety  of 
different  strands  of  art  practice.  The  lasting  benefit  of  his 
enterprise  has  undoubtedly  been  to  relativize  Western  art 
history's  tendency  to  become  fixated  upon  the  Soviet  avant- 
garde  in  a  narrow  sense,  (mis)construing  it  as  a  precursor  of 
postwar,  principally  American,  vanguard  art;  and,  by  contrast, 
to  place  the  work  of  that  wing  of  the  avant-garde  in  a 
perspective  of  other  trends  ranging  from  the  realistic  to  the 
fantastic.  The  price  of  this  pluralism,  fueled,  one  may 
speculate,  by  the  detente  politics  of  the  1970s,  has,  it  seems, 
been  to  bend  the  stick  too  far  in  the  other  direction  and 
depoliticize  the  avant-garde  tout  court.  "Perhaps  the  most 
dangerous  rumor  concerning  the  Russian  avant-garde  has  to  do 
with  its  alleged  support  of  radical  politics,  and  radical  political 
philosophy  in  general."'  This  was  written  by  Bowlt  in  1984. 
Chapter  and  verse  surely  no  longer  need  to  be  given.  Yet  for  an 
author  deeply  familiar  with  the  writings  of  that  avant-garde  to 
advance  such  a  claim  at  that  late  date  is  remarkable  and  must, 
one  assumes,  be  motivated  by  considerations  concerning  the 

social  relations  of  art  quite  discrete  from  the  substance  of  the 
historical  record  itself. 

For  their  part,  surely,  Rodchenko,  Klutsis,  Lissitzky, 
Maiakovskii,  and  others  could  not  have  been  clearer  about  their 
commitment  to  the  Revolution  and  to  the  task  of  building  a 
new  society.  Take  only  the  simplest  example:  the  program  of 
Lef  itself.  Maiakovskii  in  a  letter  of  1923  charges  his 
correspondent  to  remember  "the  purpose  for  which  we  have 
united  our  efforts,"  which  he  then  defines  as  "communist  art  (as 
part  of  corn-culture  and  communism  in  general!)."2  There  is  a 
threefold  articulation  here:  a  Communist  art — quite  a 
specialized  thing,  which  by  Maiakovskii's  own  admission  has 
not  yet  been  fully  developed  and  which  it  is  the  business  of  Lef 
to  promulgate;  the  relation  of  this  to  a  wider  Communist 
culture — which  is  to  say,  something  akin  to  Marx's 
"superstructure,"  the  range  of  institutions  both  formal  and 
informal  wherein  social  consciousness  organizes  itself  and  in 
which  "art"  per  se  is  only  a  part;  and  then  a  relation  of  this  to 
Communist  society,  by  which  Maiakovskii  obviously  means  a 
social  mode  of  production,  the  "base,"  which  will  underwrite 
the  achievement  of  the  other  two.  This  is  highly  schematic. 
But  it  is  also  programmatic  and  not  at  all  incidental  to  the 
project  of  Lef — which  is,  in  its  turn,  central  to  what  we  mean 
when  we  speak  of  the  "Soviet  avant-garde"  at  all.  Examples 
could,  of  course,  be  multiplied. 

All  this  makes  it  difficult  to  entertain  claims  about  the 
avant-garde's  political  virginity.  Yet  the  thesis  is  not  confined 
to  American  authors,  who  have,  after  all,  suffered  a  uniquely 
depoliticized  intellectual  tradition.  Andrei  Nakov  offers  an 
example  of  one  European  variant  in  a  study  of  Rodchenko 
which  simply  omits  mention  of  factors  ranging  beyond  the 
formal  and  technical — an  omission  which  is  the  more 
surprising  given  the  artist's  own  frequent  invocation  of  a 
sociopolitical  dimension  to  his  work.'  Such  exclusions — sins  of 
omission,  as  it  were,  rather  than  commission — might  be 
defensible  on  grounds  of  relevance,  space,  and  so  forth.  Not  so 
the  stance  of  the  Russian  historian  Vasilii  Rakitin:  "In  practice 
the  artists  who  were  practitioners  of  the  1920s  left  agit-art,  a 
Rodchenko  or  Lissitzky,  have  much  less  in  common  with  leftist 
sociological  hypotheses  than  has  been  supposed."4  This  is  not  a 
claim  that  there  is  no  relationship,  just  that  it  is  not  central  to 
the  avant-garde  project;  it  is  not,  however,  the  simple  omission 
of  a  set  of  determinations,  as  in  the  previous  instance,  but  an 
explicit  thesis  about  the  relation  of  the  avant-garde  to 
revolutionary  politics — and  the  relation  it  claims  is  one  of 
relative  disinvolvement.  Yet  throughout  the  twenties, 
Lissitzky 's  writings  are  replete  with  references  to  the  value  of 
art  residing  in  its  relationship  to  the  community,  and  to  the 
requirement  that  artists  abandon  a  conventional  sense  of 
artistic  work  and  participate  in  the  development  of  new  forms 
of  community  to  achieve  the  goal  of  a  classless  society.  This 
endeavor  is  held  to  have  serious  repercussions,  moreover,  in 
that  it  results  in  the  opposition  of  other,  more  conservative, 
artists  to  the  left  project:  "New  space  neither  needs  nor 
demands  pictures — it  is  not  a  picture  transposed  on  a  surface. 
This  explains  the  painters'  hostility  towards  us:  v/e  are 
destroying  the  wall  as  the  resting  place  for  their  pictures."1 
This  "new  space"  is  linked  to  a  conception  of  a  modern  world, 
a  world  whose  modernity,  furthermore,  resides  not  merely  in 
new  technology  but  in  new  social  relations.  "It  is  to  the  social 
revolution  rather  than  to  the  technological  revolution"  that  the 
basic  elements  of  Lissitzky 's  work  are  tied.6  In  1930,  he 
published  a  whole  book  to  this  effect  with  the  unambiguous 
title  of  Architektur  fur  eine  Weltrevolution  {An  Architecture  for 
World  Revolution).  After  several  years'  residence  in  the  West 
during  the  midtwenties,  and  in  marked  contrast  to  those  like 
Gabo  who  could  not  leave  the  Soviet  Union  fast  enough  after 

the  Civil  War  ended  and  Bolshevik  power  was  consolidated, 
Lissitzky  went  back  to  Russia  because,  as  his  wife  put  it: 
"There  were  tasks  of  a  special  kind  awaiting  him.  He  was 
needed  in  his  homeland;  the  Soviet  Union  needed  all  his 
knowledge,  his  experience,  his  art."7 

There  is  a  case,  let  us  put  it  no  more  strongly  than  that,  for 
the  partial  determination  of  the  avant-garde  by  the  example  of 
the  successful  Bolshevik  Revolution.  The  argument  against 
this  relies  almost  completely  on  the  Soviet  avant-garde's  roots 
in  a  prerevolutionary  avant-garde  art  movement,  on  the  one 
hand,  and  its  relationship  to  postwar  West  European 
developments  in  architecture  and  design  during  the  1920s,  on 
the  other.  The  existence  of  these  relations  does  not,  however, 
refute  the  specificity  of  the  conjuncture  of  the  avant-garde  and 
the  Revolution  within  the  Soviet  Union.  It  is  a  peculiar  kind  of 
history  which  wants  to  claim  almost  as  a  point  of  principle  that 
the  one  set  of  connections  debars  the  other,  yet  such  has  been 
the  disposition  of  hegemonic  art  history:  to  emphasize 
connections  compatible  with  the  overall  aegis  of  notions  of  art's 
autonomy — even  on  this  most  unpromising  terrain — and 
systematically  to  disregard  theoretical,  ideological,  political 
orders  of  relation.  As  such,  this  is  more  a  problem  of  Western 
art  history  and  its  institutional-political  conjuncture  than 
anything  to  do  with  the  historical  terrain  it  claims  to 

That  there  are  powerful  motivating  factors  behind  the 
"severance"  thesis  does  not  make  it  any  more  robust.  What 
those  factors  are  can  be  gleaned  from  Rakitin's  argument.  He 
needs  to  play  down  the  avant-garde's  relation  to  revolutionary 
politics  precisely  because  of  the  overarching  virtue  he  attaches 
to  the  avant-garde;  and,  concomitantly,  because  of  the  vice 
associated  with  Sovietization.  Thus,  the  avant-garde  is  "an 
energetic  free  force";  it  requires  for  its  practice  "the 
participation  of  free  active  persons."  As  such,  it  is  "thoroughly 
alien  to  the  Soviet  model  of  life."8  Rakitin  does,  at  least,  have 
the  excuse  of  being  Russian  and,  therefore,  having  been 
constrained  for  at  least  part  of  his  career  by  the  closures  of  the 
Stalinist  system.  The  same  cannot  be  said  of  "liberal"  West 
European  and  American  intellectuals  whose  work  remains 
within  the  purview  of  their  own  culture's  official  ideology. 

The  clear  line  linking  Rakitin  and  other  East  European 
"severance"  theorists  to  their  Western  liberal  counterparts  is 
the  identification  of  the  Bolshevik  Revolution  with  the 
monolithic  Soviet  system  of  the  Cold  War.  A  simultaneous 
attraction  to  an  adventurous  abstract  art  and  repulsion  from  a 
totalitarian  political  system  lead  to  the  strategy  of  divesting 
the  former  of  its  political  commitments.  The  two  most 
common  variations  on  this  strategy  are,  first,  the  displacement 
of  the  sociopolitical  impulse  to  the  margins  of  a  practice  seen  as 
primarily  determined  by  formal  and  technical  considerations 
that  it  shares  with  similar  practices  elsewhere.  And,  second, 
when  that  argument  becomes  too  weak  to  sustain,  the  notion  of 
"utopianism."  The  members  of  the  avant-garde  are  interpreted 
as  innocents  caught  up  in  the  revolutionary  turmoil,  mistaking 
its  motivations  for  their  own,  and  then  being  badly  burned  by 
the  consequences  of  their  mistake  once  the  "real"  politicians 
managed  to  divert  some  of  their  will-to-power  to  the  sphere  of 
culture.  Neither  of  these  arguments  is  completely  without 
foundation:  that  is  precisely  what  lends  them  their  specious 
plausibility  and  accounts  for  their  longevity  in  a  political- 
intellectual  conjuncture  which  wants  them  to  be  true.  Thus,  to 
invoke  Maiakovskii  once  again:  the  reason  Maiakovskii  offers 
for  forming  Lef  is  indeed  that  the  political  leadership's 
attentions  are  no  longer  going  to  be  completely  absorbed  by 
the  exigencies  of  War  Communism;  and  the  artistic  left,  as  a 
consequence,  has  to  organize  itself  and  get  its  version  of  the 
cultural  task  inserted  properly  into  the  debate  which  is  about 

to  ensue.  This  is  not  in  itself  "utopian,"  however;  quite  the 

Utopianism  is  a  tesort  of  histotians  who  want  to  ensure 
there  is  absolutely  no  passage  between  Kazimir  Malevich,  for 
example,  and — let  us  say — Leonid  Brezhnev,  as  the  symbol  of 
the  Soviet  order  at  the  moment  of  production  of  most  cultural- 
artistic  histories  of  it.  For  American  historians  in  particular, 
the  potency  of  this  system  of  passages  and  disjunctions  must 
have  been  enhanced  by  the  cultural  prestige  of  the  exiled 
Aleksandr  Solzhenitsyn  and  his  emphatic  assimilation  of  the 
Stalinist  dystopia  to  Bolshevism  per  se — an  endemic  trait  of 
liberal  thought  throughout  the  period,  but  given  significant 
reinforcement  by  the  horse  s-mouth  effect  of  the  wave  of  post- 
19605  literary  dissidents  in  general  and  Solzhenitsyn's 
American  exile  in  particular.  Utopianism  itself,  it  may  finally 
be  noted,  has  been  inflected  in  two  different  directions 
according  to  the  demands  of  the  account.  Thus,  either  we  have 
the  blissful  innocence  and  otherworldliness  of  artists  whose 
very  openness  and  suggestibility  lead  to  their  being  raped  by 
the  Marxist  politicians  as  soon  as  they  can  find  the  time 
(subtext:  art  should  avoid  politics,  then  and  now)  or,  in  the  case 
of  those  who  appear  to  have  persisted  in  their  association  of  art 
with  the  Revolution,  we  encounter  a  construction  of  willful 
naivete,  a  tempting  of  fate,  a  dangerous  kind  of  utopianism 
purblind  to  the  true  nature  of  the  realpolitik  it  entertained; 
these  people  are  paraded  as  a  lesson  on  the  dangers  of  playing 
with  such  fire  in  the  first  place,  for  inviting  it,  as  it  were,  into 
the  house  of  art  (subtext,  of  course,  the  same). 

There  is  probably  even  today  a  sense  in  which  this  image  of 
a  "protean  avant-garde,"  either  innocent  of  or  childishly 
infatuated  with  revolutionary  politics  and  subsequently 
crushed  by  the  totalitarian  Marxist  power  which  has  continued 
to  disfigure  the  twentieth  century  almost  to  its  end,  remains 
the  most  widespread  view  of  the  Soviet  constellation  of  the 
early  twenties — with  Lenin  the  ruthless  leader  whose  iron 
shadow  fell  across  a  generation  of  free  spirits,  a  generation 
whose  eccentric  vitality  has,  however,  continued  to  grace 
liberal  culture  even  as  it  was  anathematized  by  Marxism's 
pathology  of  control. 

Accounts  of  that  stripe  have  been  hegemonic.  A  second 
broad  category  emerged,  however,  to  challenge  hegemonic 
certainties  as  part  of  that  general  contestation  trading  variously 
under  the  titles  of  critiques  of  Modernism,  the  social  history  of 
art,  and  the  new  art  history  in  the  later  1970s  and  the  1980s. 
Here  for  the  first  time  serious  investigations  not  only  of  the 
individual  arts  but  of  interconnections  among  them  begin  to 
appear,  tellingly  stimulated  more  by  developments  in  film  and 
literary  theory  than  in  art  history  per  se.  The  result  has  been  a 
range  of  reconceptualizations  away  from  crudely  conventional 
assertions  of  the  autonomy  of  art — though  not,  it  should  be 
said,  thereby  away  from  a  necessary  focus  on  the  formal. 
Needless  to  say,  the  orthodox  account  of  the  avant-garde's 
distinction  from  politics  and  this  series  of  radical  re-readings 
have  not  evolved  neatly,  one  from  the  other.  Rather,  the 
contestation  between  them  has  effectively  constituted  the  field 
during  recent  times,  setting  the  register  within  whose  compass 
our  qualitative  leap  in  the  understanding  of  the  avant-garde 
has  taken  place.  The  upshot  has  been  a  field  transformed  out  of 
all  recognition,  dedicated  most  often  to  re-reading  the 
extraordinary  series  of  technical  radicalizations  which 
fundamentally  constituted  the  revolutionary  avant-garde  of  the 
1920s,  revealing  that  avant-garde  as  an  unparalleled  site  of  the 
committed  scrutiny  and  transformation  of  all  the  norms  of 
bourgeois  cultural  practice.  The  excavation  of  the  full  scope  of 
the  work  of  Rodchenko,  Vertov,  Klutsis,  Vladimir  Tatlin, 
Maiakovskii,  and  Lissitzky,  not  to  mention  the  related 
theoretical  perspectives  of  Osip  Brik,  Viktor  Shklovskii, 

Valentin  Voloshinov,  and  others,  has  achieved  that  rare  thing: 
the  eruption  of  the  historical  work  into  the  practical 
conjuncture  of  the  present.  It  would  not  be  going  too  far  to  say 
that  a  culture  has  been  recovered — a  culture,  moreover,  that  is 
still  revolutionary  with  respect  to  our  own.  Nothing  has  more 
vividly  thrown  into  relief  the  tragic  conjunction  of  the 
technically  extraordinary  and  the  socially  and  politically 
regressive  within  our  own  culture  than  this  revealed 
constellation  of  practices  in  the  fifteen  years  or  so  after  the 
October  Revolution. 

Despite,  or  perhaps  because  of,  this  concentration,  the 
relation  of  this  spectrum  of  work  to  the  October  Revolution  has 
not  been  the  focus  of  such  close  scrutiny  as  the  contours  of  the 
work  itself.  Needless  to  say,  the  aforementioned  ideologically 
motivated  sanitizing  of  the  avant-garde  has  been  eclipsed.  But 
the  nature  of  the  avant-garde's  revolutionary  affiliations  has,  for 
the  most  part,  continued  to  be  read  at  the  level  of  a  general 
platform  enabling  the  plethora  of  technical  innovations.  That 
said,  Yve-Alain  Bois,  for  example,  has  mapped  his  reading  of 
Lissitzky 's  geometrical  investigations  back  onto  a  sociopolitical 
context.''  At  their  best,  such  readings  have  aspired  to  conjoin 
the  semantic  and  social  revolutions  of  the  Soviet  avant-garde, 
at  least  as  a  point  of  principle.  In  so  doing,  they  are  an  effective 
counterweight  both  to  depoliticized  accounts  of  avant-garde 
art  and  to  orthodox  political  histories  which  neglect  the 
dimension  of  the  social  production  of  meaning. 

Lodder's  account  overturned  many  assumptions  about  the 
nature  of  Constructivism,  indeed  it  started  from  the  premise 
that  "no  satisfactory  overall  account"'0  existed.  She  was, 
nonetheless,  able  to  devote  little  space  to  siting  that  avant- 
garde  within  the  revolutionary  process.  As  might  have  been 
expected,  the  consequence,  therefore,  was  a  certain  asymmetry 
in  her  account:  innovatory  analyses  of  the  aims  of  the  avant- 
garde  and  the  organization  of  its  institutions,  yet  reliance  upon 
conventional  assumptions  about  its  context.  One  of  Lodder's 
premises  was  the  ultimate  failure  of  Constructivism;  a  tragic, 
even  a  grand  failure,  but  a  failure,  nonetheless.  This  failure  is 
signaled  by  a  retreat  from  aspirations  to  intervene  in — even  to 
"organize" — building  the  new  world,  to  small-scale 
contributions  to  the  spheres  of  graphic  design  and  theater. 
Even  the  turn  to  photography  in  the  later  twenties  is  read  as  an 
attempt  to  claw  back  some  ground  from  the  increasingly 
dominant  "Realist"  painting  groups  like  AKhRR  (the 
Association  of  Artists  of  Revolutionary  Russia). 

The  implicit  premises  here  are  three,  and  they  are  of  course 
not  Lodder's  alone  but  the  conventional  wisdom.  First,  "the 
Party"  and  its  preference  for  a  Realist  art.  Second,  the  grounds 
of  this  preference  in  Realist  art's  supposed  popularity  and 
accessibility  to  the  uneducated  masses,  an  accessibility  which 
cuts  both  ways — as  an  expression  of  the  people's  unschooled 
interests  and  as  a  conduit  for  the  Party's  preferred  messages. 
Third,  economic  scarcity,  which  underpins  this  symbiosis 
between  an  authoritarian  Party  and  a  conservative  people.  Thus 
the  Vkhutemas  experiment  was  "aborted"  because  of  "the 
material  circumstances  in  which  it  operated.""  More  than  that, 
the  "principal  reason"  advanced  by  Lodder  for  the  failure  of 
Constructivism  as  a  whole  is  "the  material  poverty  that 
dominated  all  Soviet  activity  in  the  1920s."'2  No  adequate 
account  of  Soviet  developments  in  the  1920s  could,  of  course, 
avoid  the  economic  aspect.  But  what  tends  to  be  overlooked  is 
the  extent  to  which  economic  questions  did  not  arise  as  "brute" 
facts.  This  may  seem  alarmingly  to  underestimate  what  it  is  to 
lack  the  equipment  to  produce  goods,  or  what  it  is  to 
experience  famine.  The  point  remains,  nonetheless,  that  the 
economic  dimension  is  continually  implicated  in  a  process  of 
political  direction  and  decision  making.  If  the  economic  and 
social  wreckage  of  the  War  Communism  period  could  sustain 

the  high  levels  of  activity  of  the  revolutionary  avant-garde, 
there  is  no  specifically  economic  reason  why  such  activity  could 
not  be  sustained  later  in  the  decade.  The  reasons  for  the 
increasing  effectiveness  of  criticism  of  the  erstwhile  avant- 
garde,  ultimately  amounting  to  its  marginalization  and 
suppression,  are  more  complex;  and  the  "failure"  is  not 
Constructivism's  alone. 

What  is  at  issue  is  a  far  wider  "failure":  the  failure  of  the 
October  Revolution  itself.  The  failure  of  Constructivism  or, 
indeed,  of  the  "left  front"  of  art  in  general  is  best  regarded  as  a 
symptom  of  this  larger  defeat.  It  is  as  well  to  be  clear  on  this 
point.  In  both  the  foregoing  accounts  of  the  avant-garde — 
explicitly  in  the  depoliticized  version  and  at  least  implicitly  in 
the  qualitatively  more  sophisticated  account  wherein  the 
avant-garde  is  powerfully  determined  by  the  Revolution — the 
tendency  is,  at  bottom,  to  view  the  avant-garde  as  victim  of  the 
Revolution's  success.  The  implication  is  that  the  avant-garde 
found  a  space  to  operate  in  the  heady  days  immediately 
following  the  Revolution,  when  a  mixture  of  euphoria,  chaos, 
and  the  leadership's  preoccupation  with  other  matters  offered  a 
loophole.  Seizing  its  opportunity,  the  avant-garde  became 
briefly  dominant.  Once  the  revolutionary  ship  was  stabilized, 
however,  the  authoritarian  Party  showed  its  true  colors  and,  as 
part  of  the  drive  to  extend  its  control,  suppressed  the  avant- 
garde.  The  realpolitik  of  building  up  an  industrial  base  in  a 
backward  country  meant  that  the  avant-garde  became,  at  best, 
a  sort  of  luxury  when  there  was  no  provision  for  luxuries  and, 
at  worst,  a  vestige  of  prerevolutionary  bourgeois  culture  which 
had  to  be  extirpated  from  the  nascent  workers'  state.  It  must  be 
said  that,  once  again,  there  are  elements  of  truth  in  this 
explanation:  there  was  suspicion  of  the  avant-garde's  bourgeois 
antecedents,  and  so  forth.  But  the  cumulative  effect  of  such 
accounts,  despite  their  moments  of  truth,  is  misleading — 
skewed  by  an  interpretation  of  the  Revolution  which,  it  is 
increasingly  evident,  is  itself  an  ideological  construct.  What 
gives  this  construct  its  force  is,  of  course,  that  it  has 
constituted  the  ideology  of  both  competing  world-power  blocs. 
For  equal  and  opposite  reasons,  the  bureaucratic  monolith  in 
the  USSR  and  the  liberal-capitalist  democracies  in  the  West 
have  sought  to  underwrite  a  continuity  between  the  October 
Revolution  and  the  state  system  that  succeeded  it.  To  develop 
this  point  here  would  be  to  get  ahead  of  the  story;  suffice  to  say 
at  present  that  the  three  constituents  of  the  avant-garde's 
failure,  as  offered  even  in  "revisionist"  accounts — the 
monolithic  Party,  the  backward  people,  and  economic  dearth — 
are  themselves  in  need  of  considerable  investigation  and 

Even  Benjamin  Buchloh's  compelling  account  of  the  avant- 
garde's  evolution  "from  fakt//ra  to  factography"  betrays 
elements  of  this  questionable  perspective — though  his 
argument  is  somewhat  the  reverse  of  Lodder's."  Whib  for 
Lodder  economic  scarcity  set  the  agenda,  Buchloh,  if  anything, 
overestimates  the  extent  to  which  it  had  been  conquered,  yet  in 
so  doing  demonstrates  fundamentally  the  same  perception  of 
the  Revolution's  aims.  One  of  the  virtues  of  Buchloh's  account 
is  that  it  acknowledges  the  self-consciousness  of  the 
Constructivists'  transformation  out  of  a  bourgeois  avant-garde 
art  group  in  the  changed  conditions  post-October; 
furthermore,  this  transformation  is  treated  in  terms  of  a  focus 
upon  the  audience  for  their  work.  That  is  to  say,  the 
revolutionary  self-transformation  of  the  avant-garde  is  not 
treated  as  merely  the  result  of  some  internal  dynamic  but 
conclusively  presented  as  determined  by  a  sense  of  its  task: 
whom  it  is  addressing,  and  what  has  to  be  done  to  consolidate 
and  encourage  that  new  constituency.  It  is  here,  however,  that 
Buchloh  seems  to  go  astray.  The  basic  problem  is  a  repeated 
overemphasis  on  industrialization  as  if  this  were  an  achieved 

condition  from  the  moment  of  the  Revolution.  Thus,  in  a 
passage  clearly  referring  to  the  immediate  postrevolutionary 
situation  of  War  Communism  (when  Lissitzky  displayed  his 
Suprematist  hoarding  Stank:  depo  fabrik  zavodov  zhdut  vas 
[The  Factory  Benches  Await  You,  1919-20]  outside  a  factory  in 
Vitebsk),  Buchloh  speaks  of  "the  new  audiences  of 
industrialized  urban  society  in  the  Soviet  Union."  Ironically, 
postrevolutionary  society  was  in  the  process  of  becoming 
considerably  less  industrialized  than  it  had  been  even  under 
czarism  as  production  was  wrecked  and  the  working  class  itself 
bled  dry  by  the  Civil  War.  Elsewhere,  this  time  in  a  discussion 
of  the  NEP  (New  Economic  Policy)  period,  and  specifically  of 
avant-garde  responses  to  the  reassertion  of  tradition  under 
NEP,  Buchloh  refers  to  an  art  production  addressing  "the  needs 
of  a  newly  industrialized  collective  society" — this  at  a  time 
when  Russian  society,  as  a  matter  of  policy,  was  neither    , 
industrialized  nor  collective.  Factography  as  it  developed  in  the 
late  1920s  certainly  took  place  in  an  atmosphere  when 
industrialization,  ultimately  in  the  shape  of  the  First  Five- Year 
Plan,  came  on  the  agenda.  Yet  it  did  not  become  enshrined  as 
an  absolute  until  1928  or  even  1929.  Thus,  in  a  discussion  of 
jaktura  (density)  during  the  so-called  "laboratory  period,"  circa 
1918-21,  Buchloh's  reference  to  "the  introduction  of 
industrialization  and  social  engineering  that  was  imminent  in 
the  Soviet  Union  after  the  revolution  of  1917"  certainly  seems 
premature.  That  industrialization  of  a  certain  type — not  of  the 
sort  which  actually  came  about  at  the  end  of  the  decade — may 
have  been  required  by  Constructivism  merely  underlines  the 
significance  of  such  a  gap  between  requirement  and  reality. 

There  are  two  possibilities  here.  One  is  that  Buchloh's 
wider  history  is  insufficiently  differentiated,  but  of  no 
consequence  because  it  doesn't  affect  his  account  of 
developments  within  the  avant-garde.  The  other  is  that  a 
tendency  to  misread  the  productive  context  does  indeed  have 
some  bearing  on  an  explanation  of  artistic  developments 
which,  after  all,  sets  out  with  the  intention  of  situating  them 
in  a  dialectic  with  society  and  production  rather  than  treating 
the  latter  as  a  passive  backdrop  to  the  art.  It  is  this  second 
possibility  which  I  shall  go  on  to  explore  below.  But  first,  this 
schematic  survey  of  characterizations  of  the  sociopolitical 
alignments  of  the  avant-garde  requires  completion. 

Just  as  the  "severance"  thesis  of  liberal  dominance  came  to 
be  challenged  by  revisionist  accounts  which  for  the  first  time 
revealed  the  extent  of  the  avant-garde's  project  of  participation 
in  the  revolutionary  process  of  building  the  new  society,  so 
recently  there  is  evidence  that  a  third  kind  of  account  is 
emerging.  This  is  not  so  surprising  as  it  might  seem.  Both  of 
the  foregoing  accounts  have  themselves  emanated  from  an 
academic-institutional  conjuncture  overdetermined  by  the 
conditions  of  the  postwar  settlement:  the  division  of  the  world 
into  two  superpower  blocs.  In  terms  of  a  structural  logic,  if  not 
always  of  strict  chronology,  it  may  be  possible  to  ascribe  the 
"severance"  and  "revisionist"  accounts  to  distinct  moments  in 
that  period:  in  brief,  to  pre-  and  post-1968.  The  reemergence  of 
a  second  Cold  War  during  the  Reagan/Thatcher/Brezhnev 
period  tended  to  give  renewed  emphasis  to  perspectives  more 
at  home  in  the  earlier  phase,  just  as  it  threatened  to 
marginalize  the  revisionisms  which  for  a  period  after  the 
radicalizations  of  the  late  sixties,  and  during  the  period  of 
detente,  threatened  to  become  hegemonic  at  least  in  the  social 
sciences  and  the  newly  sophisticated  cultural  studies 
departments  of  Western  higher-educational  institutions.  Since 
the  mid-1980s,  and  reaching  at  least  a  temporary  climax  in 
1989  (whether  this  proves  to  be  a  plateau  before  even  greater 
upheavals  remains  to  be  seen),  this  map  has  been  redrawn.  A 
condition  which  appeared  to  be — or  perhaps  more  accurately, 
felt  as  if  it  were — permanent,  has  dissolved  into  history;  and 

official  talk,  at  least,  is  of  a  "new  world  order."  One  of  the  main 
accompaniments  to  the  sound  of  the  Berlin  Wall  coming  down 
has  been  the  clatter  of  intellectuals  of  a  variety  of  persuasions 
typing  out  the  obituaries  of  socialism/Communism/Marxism. 
One  of  the  darkest  stars  in  this  dubious  intellectual 
constellation  has  been  Francis  Fukuyama's  thesis  of  the  end  of 
history,  a  kind  of  right-wing  Postmodernism  in  its  evocation  of 
a  boring  future  in  which  the  grand  narratives  of  emancipation 
have  expired,  but  a  thesis  which  nonetheless  offered  a  rerun  of 
Daniel  Bell's  "end  of  ideology"  claim  from  the  1950s.'4  The 
affirmative  side  of  Fukuyama's  elision  of  Marx,  Lenin,  Stalin, 
and  the  socialist  tradition  tout  court  was  an  assertion  of  the 
permanent  realization  of  liberalism.  In  fact,  the  "end  of 
history"  consisted  specifically  in  wall-to-wall  liberalism,  albeit 
of  a  conservative,  State  Department  hue.  The  foundations  of 
Fukuyama's  thesis  have,  since  its  publication,  been  subject  to 
criticism,  and  in  the  wake  of  the  Persian  Gulf  War  skepticism 
has  accrued  mightily  about  the  credentials  of  George  Bush's 
"new  world  order."  Notwithstanding  this,  however,  the 
Fukuyama  argument  is  an  indication  of  the  new  lease  on  life 
which  the  rhetorical  death  of  Marxism  et  cetera  has  given  to 
voices  which  want  nothing  to  do  with  revolution — neither 
English  nor  French  nor,  of  course,  Russian;  nor,  one  might  add, 

A  side  effect  of  the  collapse  of  the  Soviet  empire  in  the  field 
of  cultural  history  has  been  the  opening  up  of  a  hitherto  largely 
dormant  field:  the  culture  of  the  Stalin  period.  Much  of  this 
work  promises,  of  course,  to  be  of  exceptional  value,  as  it 
brings  to  light  the  complexities  of  that  which  has  heretofore 
been  written  off,  for  the  most  part,  as  the  ossified  Other  of 
Modernism,  unworthy  of  scholarly  investigation,  the  creature 
of  a  totalitarian  bureaucracy  with  no  compact  or  articulated 
identity — no  history — of  its  own.  One  contested  area  which 
this  development  places  on  the  agenda,  however,  is  the 
relationship  of  the  avant-garde  of  the  1920s  to  the  official  art  of 
the  Stalin  era.  The  traditional  option  of  a  pristine,  apolitical 
avant-garde  subordinated  to  a  totalitarian  political  agenda 
having  been  somewhat  abrogated  by  those  revisionist  histories 
which  revealed  the  extent  of  the  avant-garde's  politicization, 
the  question  now  poses  itself  the  more  starkly:  what  is  the 
relationship  of  those  politics  to  the  politics  of  Socialist  Realism 
and  Stalinism? 

One  of  the  key  issues  here,  which  falls  beyond  the  scope  of 
the  present  essay,  concerns  the  political  perspective  of 
revisionist-left  histories  themselves.  Suffice  to  say  that  for  the 
majority  of  the  left,  Stalinism  has  presented  a  major 
ideological,  as  well  as  a  moral  and  political,  problem.  The 
glaring  discrepancy  between  conceptions  of  a  "presently 
existing  socialism" — positively  or  negatively  inflected 
according  to  the  author's  devotion  to  the  Communist  Party 
tradition — and  the  realities  of  the  bureaucratic  nightmare  that 
Stalinism  actually  was,  coupled  with  the  fact  that  the 
bureaucracy  systematically  denied  access  to  all  kinds  of 
information  about  its  own  constitution  and  history,  ensured 
that  the  question  of  Stalinist  culture  did  not  get  addressed. 
The  demise  of  that  system,  combined  with  the  renewed 
boldness  of  the  ideological  wing  of  the  apparently  victorious, 
economically  liberal/politically  conservative  capitalist 
formation  in  what  E.  P.  Thompson  once  called  the 
"Natopolitan"  countries,  has  given  a  new  lease  on  life  to 
denunciations  of  Stalinism,  while  reducing  any  need  to  be 
scrupulous  in  depicting  its  antecedents.  When  even  the 
Western  <    >mmunist  parties  are  competing  to  distance 
themselves  from  the  October  Revolution  (and  the  legacy  they 
themselves  have  systematically  misconstrued),  what  historian 
of  art  is  ;  to  be  in  a  position  to  be  able — let  alone  to 

want-  o  the  occluded  byways  of  Russian  politics  in 

the  1920s?  That  sense  of  a  loosening  of  restraint,  albeit  often 
for  negative  reasons,  on  the  scrutiny  of  Stalinism,  plus  the  fact 
that  a  great  quantity  of  historical  data  on  the  Stalin  era  is  only 
now  becoming  available,  means  that  the  question  passed  over 
in  silence  by  those  histories  which  gave  back  to  the  avant-garde 
its  political  dimension  is  now  close  to  the  center  of  concern. 
Moreover,  the  contours  of  an  answer  are  being  provided,  too. 
To  borrow  a  term  from  media  studies,  our  situation  on  the 
threshold  of  a  "new  world  order"  offers  a  preferred  reading  of 
that  order's  defeated  opponents.  If  "severance"  was  one  motif 
for  the  avant-garde's  relation  to  politics,  a  motif  redrawn  as 
cohabitation  by  left-revisionist  histories,  the  new 
neoconservative  perspective  can  be  given  in  one  word: 

Not  all  such  accounts  are,  of  course,  of  a  piece;  this  "map"  is 
only  schematic,  and  the  epithet  "neoconservative"  may  not 
always  be  wholly  justified.  Thus,  to  take  only  two  authors: 
Boris  Groys  in  a  stimulating  and  suggestive  argument  treats 
Socialist  Realism  as  a  sui  generis  cultural  formation,  whereas 
Igor  Golomstock  in  a  palpably  rebarbative  text  is  concerned  to 
reduce  it  to  the  status  of  merely  one  manifestation  of  a 
"totalitarian  art"  that  also  includes  the  products  of  Italian 
Fascism  and  German  Nazism."  Both,  however,  in  a  diametric 
reversal  of  arguments  for  the  political  innocence  of  the  avant- 
garde,  are  concerned  to  draw  connections  between  it  and  the 
ostensibly  very  different  art  of  Socialist  Realism. 

Golomstock's  case  involves  more  than  a  hint  of  guilt  by 
association.  In  an  ironically  symmetrical  replay — of  all 
things — of  Georg  Lukacs's  denunciation  of  the  Expressionist 
avant-garde  for  weakening  the  resistance  of  the  bourgeois 
humanist  tradition  to  Fascism,  Golomstock  despairs  of  the 
avant-garde  for  smoothing  the  path  of  totalitarianism.  It 
should  be  said  that  this  is  not  Golomstock's  main  focus — 
which  consists  in  the  claimed  isomorphism  of  Stalinist  and 
Nazi  art.  But  a  central  plank  of  such  a  claim  is  the  assertion  of 
continuity  between  the  Bolshevik  Revolution  and  the  Stalinist 
bureaucracy.  As  his  teleological  argument  has  it:  "a  totalitarian 
regime  disguises  itself  in  revolutionary  garb  during  its  first 
stage  of  development."  In  line  with  this  political  claim,  a 
"continuity"  thesis  is  asserted  in  art.  The  committed  wing  of 
the  left  avant-garde — Tatlin,  Rodchenko,  Klutsis,  Lissitzky — 
become  totalitarians  in  nuce.  "Many  features"  of  the  avant- 
garde's  artistic  ideology  "were  later  incorporated  into  the 
foundations  of  totalitarian  art."  Citations  from  1920s  avant- 
gardists  are  deployed  to  prove  that  "the  first  calls  for  the  strict 
administration  and  central  administration  of  the  arts"  came 
from  "the  revolutionary  avant-garde  themselves,"  and  thence 
that  the  avant-garde  "first  elaborated  a  totalitarian  ideology  of 
culture."  The  slippage  in  the  argument  is  notable.  In  fact, 
Golomstock  inserts  a  disclaimer  in  his  argument  to  the  effect 
that  it  would  be  wrong  to  overstate  the  avant-garde's 
responsibility  for  totalitarian  art,  since  that  is  just  what 
Socialist  Realist  theoreticians  themselves  claimed  about  the 
avant-garde  vis-a-vis  Nazism,  as  part  of  establishing  their  own 
distance  from  it.  The  disclaimer  does,  however,  ring  somewhat 
tokenistically  in  the  face  of  the  multiplicity  of  claims  to  the 
effect  that  it  would  be  "illegitimate,  however,  entirely  to  deny 
the  role  of  the  avant-garde  in  the  formation  of  the  totalitarian 
artistic  ideology."  A  supposedly  conventional  antithesis  (our 
first,  "hegemonic"  interpretation  above)  is  invoked  wherein 
"these  two  decades  [i.e.,  the  1920s  and  1930s]  appear  to  be 
antagonistic  epochs"  according  to  a  list  of  binary  oppositions: 
"freedom  and  slavery,  dynamism  and  stasis,  development  and 
stagnation,  etc."  By  thus  absolutizing  the  supposed 
"oppositions,"  it  becomes  easier  to  take  a  "realistic"  step  back 
and  claim  a  "hereditary  link"  between  the  revolutionary  avant- 
garde  and  the  Stalinist  apologetics  of  Socialist  Realism. 

The  thrust  of  this  argument  in  Golomstock's  case  is  clearly 
grounded  in  a  valorization  of  Western  liberal  democracy — not 
surprising,  since  he  is  in  voluntary  exile  after  a  blighted  career 
within  the  Stalinist  system.  The  point  is  not  so  much  to 
question  the  allegiances  imposed  by  a  trammeled  biography  as 
to  note  that  in  the  present  conjuncture  of  its  publication, 
Golomstock's  thesis  dovetails  with  the  wider  triumphalism  of 
Western  official  readings  of  the  revolutions  of  1989.  In  this 
connection,  there  is,  in  fact,  an  explicit  sense  in  which  the 
historical  continuity  thesis  is  offered  as  a  dire  warning  to 
contemporary  artists  who  evince  a  renewed  openness  to  art's 
sociopolitical  dimension.  Artists  inclined  to  a  critique  of 
Modernism  may  be  tempted  by  a  "nostalgia"  for  "art's  lost 
social  role"  to  "flirt,  albeit  unconsciously,  with  totalitarian 

Groys's  argument  differs  from  Golomstock's  in  its  view  of 
Socialist  Realism  as  a  specific  formation,  as  well  as  in  its 
acknowledgment  of  the  paradoxical  defeat  of  the  avant-garde's 
intentions  to  transcend  bourgeois  art  practice,  which  the 
contemporary  interest  of  art  museums  and  historians 
represents.  Nonetheless,  apropos  the  present  argument 
concerning  the  politics  of  the  avant-garde,  he  repeatedly  asserts 
Socialist  Realism's  "identity  with  the  avant-garde  era,"  the 
"unity  of  their  fundamental  artistic  aim."  Despite  appearances, 
Socialist  Realism  "put  into  effect  practically  all  the 
fundamental  watchwords  of  the  avant-garde."  Although  it 
moved  away  from  the  avant-garde  stylistically,  "at  the  same 
time  it  continued,  developed  and  in  a  certain  sense,  even 
implemented  its  programme."  Clearly,  these  arguments  require 
careful  consideration.  Outrageous  as  they  might  seem  at  first 
glance  to  sensibilities  nurtured  on  the  alleged  otherworldliness 
of  a  Malevich,  let  alone  the  straightforwardly  anti-Soviet 
credentials  of  a  Gabo,  there  is  once  more  a  grain,  though  not  a 
kernel,  of  truth  to  them.  The  issue  revolves,  of  course,  precisely 
around  the  Soviet  avant-garde's  self-transformation  out  of  a 
Modernist-type  embrace  of  the  autonomy  of  art  rooted  in  the 
narrowing  of  art  to  the  realm  of  the  aesthetic  (where  the 
aesthetic  is  understood  in  terms  of  a  conception  of  the 
expression  of  emotion  and  concomitant  distance  from  the 
cognitive  or  critical).  It  is  this  basic  fact  of  an  art  being 
conceived  in  terms  of  a  social  rather  than  a  purely  aesthetic 
task  which  engenders  the  desire  to  curtail  its  emancipatory 
aura  by  reining  it  in  as  a  precursor  of  Socialist  Realism.  Thus, 
Bois  wants,  rightly,  to  claim  of  Lissitzky's  prouns  that  they  are 
"abstract  models  of  radical  freedom."'"  Any  such  identification 
is  clearly  disrupted  by  an  argument  which  postulates  a  one-way 
street  from  the  avant-garde  to  the  subservient,  sometimes 
brutal,  always  formulaic  art  of  the  bureaucratic  system. 

Groys's  key  phrase  is  that  Socialist  Realism  constitutes  the 
"continuation  of  the  Russian  avant-garde's  strategy  by  other 
means."  The  whole  issue,  by  which  I  mean  the  thesis  of 
continuity  between  the  avant-garde  and  Socialist  Realism  and 
between  the  Bolshevik  Revolution  and  Stalinism,  centers  on 
the  constitution  of  "means"  and  "ends."  For  Groys,  the 
"means"  are,  on  the  one  hand,  a  highly  idealized  form  of 
figurative  painting  and,  on  the  other,  a  rhetoric  of  materialism. 
His  claim  is  that  the  end  which  the  avant-garde  and  Socialist 
Realism  shared  was  the  aspiration  to  change  people's  nature: 
either  through  a  kind  of  narrative  persuasion  or  by  directly 
intervening  in  and  changing  their  environments.  Such  a 
comparison  is,  it  must  be  said,  smoothed  somewhat  by  the 
invocation  of  hyper-Productivists  like  Boris  Arvatov.  The 
wilder  reaches  of  Soviet  Taylorism,  as  represented  by  such  as 
Arvatov,  Boris  Kushner,  and  Aleksei  Gastev,  are,  it  must  be 
conceded,  terrifying.  They  are  not,  however,  truly 
representative  of  the  left  front  of  the  arts  as  a  whole.  It  is  more 
than  a  little  disingenuous  to  use  them  as  a  stick  with  which  to 

beat  the  avant-garde  in  general.  But  the  question  of  shared 
"ends"  runs  deeper  than  this,  and  care  is  required. 

The  basic  disposition  to  change  people's  habits,  even  the 
revolutionary  desire  to  bring  about  a  new  kind  of  person  living 
a  new  kind  of  life  free  from  oppression  and  exploitation  is,  as  it 
stands,  too  vague  to  legitimate  the  assimilation  of  the 
revolutionary  avant-garde  of  the  1920s  to  the  official  state  art  of 
the  1930s.  The  question  is,  rather,  whether  their  conceptions  of 
a  "new  way  of  life,"  of  "socialist  man,"  and  so  forth,  are  the 
same.  Equally  important  is  whether  the  philosophical  positions 
stood  in  the  same  relation  to  actual  policies,  insofar  as  the 
question  of  "ends"  has  two  aspects:  what  they  said  and  what 
they  did.  The  main  issue,  nonetheless,  is  whether  the  ends  of 
the  October  Revolution  can  be  said  to  be  the  same  as  the  ends 
of  the  Stalinist  system  of  the  thirties  and  after.  Before  debating 
the  historical  point,  it  is  worth  underlining  that,  for  Groys, 
they  are.  In  one  particularly  outspoken  instance  they  are  de 
facto  identified:  "...  the  October  Revolution  and  its  slogan  of 
the  total  reconstruction  of  the  country  according  to  a  single 
plan."  There  is  obviously  an  overlap  here  with  the  arguments  of 
Buchloh  noted  earlier.  And  once  again  the  assumption  is 
mistaken.  The  Bolshevik  intention  was  not,  initially,  to  build 
up  an  industrial  planned  economy  in  the  national  Russian 
state.  It  was  to  stimulate,  to  act  as  a  bridgehead  for,  revolution 
in  the  already  industrialized  Western  nations.  Lenin  repeatedly 
argued  that  "without  such  a  revolution  we  are  lost,"  and  even 
that  "the  final  victory  of  socialism  in  a  single  country  is  of 
course  impossible."'"  Moreover,  he  also  judged  that  when  the 
international  revolution  did  occur,  its  Russian  component 
would  retreat  to  the  the  second  rank,  only  then  slowly  building 
itself  up  on  the  basis  of  aid  from  the  developed  countries.  It 
was  in  complete  opposition  to  this  view — which  is  to  say,  the 
view  of  Lenin,  Lev  Trotskii,  and  the  Bolshevik  Party  as  a 
whole — that  Stalin,  as  Carr  has  pointed  out,  as  early  as  1918 
voiced  skepticism  about  the  international  dimension  of  the 
Revolution  and  viewed  it  in  a  primarily  Russian  national 
context.'8  Thus,  the  effect  of  that  one  sentence  in  Groys's 
history  is  to  collapse  the  international-socialist  Bolshevik 
October  into  the  Stalinist  doctrine  of  "socialism  in  one 
country"  and  its  achievement  through  the  Five- Year  Plans.  It  is 
worth  noting  that  even  this  latter  is  an  elision  of  no  small 
order:  the  doctrine  of  "socialism  in  one  country"  in  fact 
preceded  the  adoption  of  the  First  Five-Year  Plan  by  the  better 
part  of  five  years  and,  indeed,  was  initially  promulgated  in  the 
conditions  of  the  New  Economic  Policy  in  1924 — the  very 
social  system  which  the  Five-Year  Plan  overthrew. 

The  twin  assimilation — of  October  to  the  Monolith,  of  Lef 
to  Socialist  Realism — receives  a  particular  fillip  from  an 
observation  made  by  both  Groys  and  Golomstock.  One  of  the 
most  Orwellian  encapsulations  of  the  task  of  the  Socialist 
Realist  artist  is  that  offered  at  the  First  Congress  of  Soviet 
Writers  in  1934  by  Andrei  Zhdanov,  quoting  Stalin  himself: 
writers  were  to  be  "engineers  of  human  souls."  This  almost 
oxymoronic  formulation  produces  a  chilling  effect  and  has 
come  to  stand  as  the  hallmark  of  Stalinism's  inhumanity  and 
indifference  to  the  individual.  Both  Groys  and  Golomstock 
argue  for  a  continuity  between  the  Constructivist  project  and 
this  Stalinist  conception  of  the  artist.  In  Groys's  case,  the  claim 
is  rooted  in  a  general  invocation  of  the  avant-garde  concept  of 
the  "artist-engineer."  His  argument  is  that  the  Utopian  and 
unrealizable  disposition  of  artists  actually  to  shape  the  material 
form  of  the  environment  is  nothing  less  than  that  which  was 
taken  over  by  Stalin  and  his  cohorts — so  that  artists  could  now 
focus  on  the  more  manageable  task  of  mind-fixing.  What  made 
the  avant-garde's  project  "utopian"  was  that  artists  exceeded 
their  brief  by  aspiring  to  affect  the  "base,"  an  ambition 
Socialist  Realism  redressed  by  its  focus  on  the  "superstructure." 

This  is  held  to  be  its  realpolitik.  Golomstock's  argument  is 
essentially  the  same,  except  that  he  musters  a  quotation: 
Sergei  Tret'iakov's  image  from  the  first  issue  of  Lef(Left  Front 
of  the  Arts),  which  Golomstock  translates  as  "psycho-engineer." 
Tret'iakov's  subsequent  fate  in  one  of  Stalin's  prison  camps  thus 
becomes  a  heightened  instance  of  the  avant-garde  being 
devoured  by  the  Frankenstein  it  helped  to  create,  and  by 
implication  a  grisly  warning  to  any  and  all  who  find 
themselves  attracted  to  the  role  of  the  "engaged  artist." 

The  avant-garde  notion  of  the  engineer  or  constructor  was 
part  of  an  attempt  to  realign  the  practice  of  art  with  the 
business  of  socialist  construction  and  to  distance  it  from 
mysticism.  As  such,  it  partook  of  the  central  historical- 
materialist  tenet  that  "social  consciousness"  is  determined  by 
"social  being."  To  conflate  this  with  the  Stalinist  panoply  of 
repression  and,  by  inference,  with  its  well-known  corruption  of 
psychiatry  in  the  treatment  of  dissidents  owes  more  to  Cold 
War  ideology  than  to  history.  I  would  be  naive  to  claim  that 
there  were  no  points  of  contact  among  the  avant-garde,  the 
Revolution,  and  Stalinism.  But  how  such  a  relation  is 
conceived  matters  greatly.  In  marked  contrast  to  the  foregoing, 
Victor  Serge  wrote:  "It  is  often  said  that  'the  germ  of  all 
Stalinism  was  in  Bolshevism  at  its  beginning'.  Well,  I  have  no 
objection.  Only,  Bolshevism  also  contained  many  other 
germs — a  mass  of  other  germs — and  those  who  lived  through 
the  enthusiasm  of  the  first  years  of  the  first  victorious 
revolution  ought  not  to  forget  it.  To  judge  the  living  man  by 
the  death  germs  which  the  autopsy  reveals  in  a  corpse — and 
which  he  may  have  carried  with  him  since  his  birth — is  this 
very  sensible?"'9 

Distinct,  on  the  one  hand,  from  traditional  claims  of  the 
Soviet  avant-garde's  relative  political  "innocence,"  and  quite 
unequivocally  dismissive,  on  the  other,  of  any  virtue  attaching 
to  its  commitment  to  revolutionary  politics,  these  arguments 
add  a  new  dimension  to  the  political  meanings  ascribed  to  the 
avant-garde.  Coming  when  they  do,  they  in  a  powerful  sense 
complete  the  continuity  thesis  about  Bolshevism  and 
Stalinism.  Long  the  staple  of  Western  ideologists,  this  claim 
has  often  seemed  to  find  its  most  vivid  and  persuasive  rejoinder 
in  the  transformative  elan  of  the  revolutionary  avant-garde. 
The  effect  of  these  interpretations,  in  the  climate  of  the  "new 
world  order,"  is  to  close  off  that  loophole  in  liberal-conservative 
ideology  for  good. 


The  foregoing  survey  of  existing  interpretations  of  the  politics 
of  the  postrevolutionary  Soviet  avant-garde,  cursory  and 
schematic  though  it  has  been,  reveals  a  deficiency.  Only 
accounts  in  the  second  broad  category  (which  I  have  dubbed 
the  "revisionist"  histories,  in  order  to  distinguish  them  both 
from  the  previously  dominant  sanitized  or  apologetic 
constructions  of  an  apolitical  art  movement  and  from  the 
recently  emergent,  conservatively  inflected  histories  which  play 
upon  a  claimed  complicity  with  Stalinism  as  part  of  a  wider 
project  of  burying  affirmations  of  social  revolution,  the 
collective,  and  planning) — only  these  offer  an  adequate  account 
of  the  institutions,  debates,  and  formal  and  technical  strategies 
of  the  avant-garde.  "Only"  is,  of  course,  a  relative  term  here. 
Such  accounts  have  formed  the  central  ground  of  interpretation 
of  the  avant-garde  in  recent  years.  But  now  that  the  situation 
in  Russia  has  changed  so  fundamentally,  there  is  no  guarantee 
that  this  will  remain  the  case.  The  identification  of  the 
Stalinist  system  with  socialism  has  been  so  prevalent  that  the 
system's  fall  can,  and  perhaps  will,  contribute  more  readily  to 
the  displacement  of  social  radicalism  from  the  academic  agenda 
than  to  the  regeneration  of  such  concern,  which,  in  more 
propitious  circumstances,  the  removal  of  one  of  its  main 

obstacles  might  have  permitted.  Even  those  otherwise  fruitful 
"revisionist"  accounts,  however,  have  not,  on  the  whole,  tended 
to  place  avant-garde  developments  securely  within  the  wider 
context  of  debate  and  struggle  which,  in  the  1920s,  was  the 
process  of  sustaining  the  Revolution  and  building  the  new  life. 
On  the  other  side,  it  goes  almost  without  saying,  the  orthodox 
political  histories  have,  for  their  part,  devoted  scant,  if  any, 
attention  to  artistic  debates.20  An  obvious  question  arises, 
therefore.  Is  it  possible,  at  present,  to  offer  a  more  positive 
interpretation  of  the  politics  of  the  avant-garde  which  may 
situate  it  in  a  nuanced  account  of  the  postrevolutionary 
political  process:  more  nuanced,  that  is,  than  a  conception 
which,  for  all  its  detail,  tends  to  see  the  Revolution  as  a  species 
of  natural  force,  an  eruption  whose  lava  flows  into  a  variety  of 
distinct  spheres,  only  to  harden  into  Stalin's  iron  realpolitik — 
another  "natural"  outcome  of  revolution  in  a  backward  country. 

There  is  no  small  paradox  in  the  readiness  of  liberal 
historians  to  ascribe  a  kind  of  determinism  to 
postrevolutionary  political  history,  as  though  a  hardening  of 
the  arteries  was  the  only  possible  outcome  for  the  Revolution. 
Yet  the  1920s  in  fact  witnessed  a  contested  political  process  the 
outcome  of  which  was  not  certain.  It  has  been  argued  that  one 
reason  why  Trotskii  failed  adequately  to  oppose  Stalin  at  the 
Twelfth  Party  Congress  in  1923,  when  the  latter's  power  was  far 
from  established,  let  alone  consolidated,  was  that  Trotskii 
simply  could  not  bring  himself  to  take  Stalin's  threat  to  his 
own  status  and  the  gains  of  the  Revolution  seriously:  "No 
contemporary,  and  he  [Trotskii]  least  of  all,  saw  in  the  Stalin  of 
1923  the  menacing  and  towering  figure  he  was  to  become."2'  If 
so,  the  miscalculation  itself  is  dramatic  enough.  But  what  it 
indicates,  more  generally,  is  that  Staling  as  a  system 
represented  a  position  won  from  the  defeat  of  other 
perspectives.  Russia  in  the  1920s  witnessed  a  continuing 
struggle  over  the  balance  of  forces,  economic,  political,  and 
cultural — a  struggle  intensified  by  the  uncertainties  of  the 
international  situation — rather  than  a  royal  road  to  the  cult  of 

When  speaking  of  the  politics  of  the  avant-garde,  it  is 
fundamental  to  retain  this  sense  of  a  political  process.  For  the 
greater  part  of  the  period,  however,  there  were  no  forces  that 
resembled  political  parties  in  the  contemporary  Western  sense. 
The  Mensheviks  and  Right  SRs  (Social  Revolutionaries), 
having  been  banned  in  June  1918  for  association  with 
"notorious  counterrevolutionaries,"  had  been  rehabilitated  later 
that  year  and  early  in  1919  and  continued  to  exist  throughout 
the  Civil  War,  though  their  support  eroded  and  both  were 
effectively  harried  out  of  existence  by  the  war's  end.  This 
coincided  with  the  banning  of  organized  fractions  within  the 
Party  at  the  Tenth  Congress  in  1921.  The  situation  at  this  point 
was  grave:  the  war  economy  had  extended  a  kind  of  military 
discipline  over  the  whole  of  society,  which  was  now  in  a 
pulverized  condition;  the  Kronshtadt  revolt  had  just  been  put 
down,  at  terrible  cost;  and  massive  controversy  over  the 
adoption  of  the  New  Economic  Policy  was  threatening  to  tear 
the  congress  apart.  Carr  comments  that  the  General  Resolution 
on  the  Unity  of  the  Party  "seemed  necessary  and  reasonable  at 
the  time."22  Nonetheless,  this  decision  came  back  to  haunt  the 
opposition  to  Stalin  during  the  twenties,  the  problem  being 
that  the  very  organization  of  oppositional  forces — even  if  in  the 
cause  of  democratization — broke  the  rules  and  could  be 
claimed,  therefore,  to  violate  Soviet  democracy.  The  political 
process  which  took  place,  consequently,  comprised  more  or  less 
illegitimate  formations,  always  subordinate  to  the  state  power, 
and  increasingly  so  as  power  was  concentrated  further  under 
the  control  of  the  centralized  apparatus.  This  is  not  to  say, 
however,  that  these  formations  were  ipso  facto  marginal,  or 
sectarian,  let  alone  counterrevolutionary.  Far  from  it:  the  main 

oppositional  grouping's  central  claim  was  defense  of  the  legacy 
of  October  against  increasing  deviations  and  retreats. 

Given  this  state  of  affairs,  one  is  extremely  unlikely  to  find 
in  the  historical  record  evidence  of  artists'  explicit  political 
commitments  in  any  party  or  neoparty  sense.  In  fact,  any  such 
commitments  are,  with  the  exception  of  a  few  general 
references  to  the  Communist  Party  itself,  as  rare  as  they  are  in 
the  documents  of  the  Western  avant-garde.  This  is  presumably 
the  origin,  and  one  reason  for  the  longevity,  of  claims  for  the 
apolitical  nature  of  the  Soviet  avant-garde:  one  will  search  in 
vain  for  discussion  of  the  political  programs  of  Nikolai 
Bukharin  or  Trotskii,  or  indeed  for  extended  discussion  of 
specific  political  doctrines  such  as  "socialism  in  one  country"  or 
even  the  Five- Year  Plans  (which  do,  of  course,  receive  mention, 
but  at  most  as/aits  accomplis  rather  than  as  specific  political 
strategies).  It  may  be  useful  in  this  regard  to  distinguish 
between  a  relatively  organizational  sense  of  politics  and  a  more 
diffuse  sense  of  political  ideology.  For  if  there  is  an  absence  of 
political  commitment  in  the  former  sense,  the  record  is 
saturated  with  examples  of  it  in  the  latter. 

The  major  artists  and  theorists  without  exception  place 
their  formal  and  technical  innovations  squarely  on  the  basis  of 
the  sociopolitical  achievement  of  the  October  Revolution. 
Undoubtedly,  most  of  these  figures  developed  their 
characteristic  technical  innovations  in  the  period  before  the 
Revolution.  From  1912  onward,  however,  with  the  Lena 
goldfield  massacre,  that  period  was  in  some  respect  itself  one  of 
rising  political  militancy — which  contributed  to  the  cultural 
climate.  But  more  to  the  point,  October  gave  these  artistic 
developments  a  political  focus  and  in  so  doing  further 
transformed  them.  The  result  was  a  specific  conjunction,  a 
union  even,  of  the  formal  and  the  political:  an  avant-garde 
practically  transformed  by  a  wider  social  revolution. ;1  Such  a 
conjunction  was  sustainable  only  as  long  as  the  Revolution 
itself  and  its  own  subsequent  existence  and  prospects  bore  the 
marks  of  the  wider  restrictions  and  redefinitions  undergone. 

The  salient  feature  of  the  Bolshevik  Revolution,  in  a  word, 
was  that  it  was  extraordinary.  It  is  arguable  that  the  1920s  in 
Russia  marked  a  particularly  hideous  form — or  rather  forms, 
for  there  were  distinct  stages — of  normalization.  It  may  be 
objected  that  there  was  nothing  "normal"  about  forced 
collectivization  and  mass  famine.  But  two  things  should  be 
remembered.  First,  collectivization  and  the  parallel 
industrialization  program  of  the  later  decade  were  not  the  first 
response  of  the  Soviet  government  to  the  need  to  rebuild  the 
country.  And  second,  however  concentrated  their  particular 
form  in  Russia,  increasing  state  interventions  in  the  economy 
came  to  constitute  the  norm  for  all  developed  nations  in  the 
capitalist  crisis  of  the  1930s:  in  Germany,  Italy,  and  Japan, 
obviously,  but  also  in  the  United  States  and  Great  Britain, 
levels  of  intervention  both  domestically  and  in  international 
trade  reached  new  heights.  In  the  end,  the  building  up  of  a 
national  economy  with  its  own  industrial  base  was  normal  in  a 
way  that  breaking  the  weakest  link  in  the  chain  of 
international  capitalism  and  proceeding  to  use  that  bridgehead 
to  stimulate  breaks  elsewhere,  was  not. 

The  two  emblematic  works  of  revolutionary  art  belong  to  a 
period  when  commitment  to  the  revolution  was  able  to  be,  so 
to  speak,  homogeneous.  Tatlin's  model  for  the  Pamiatnik 
Ill-emu  Internatsionalu  {Monument  to  the  Third  International, 
1919—20,  fig.  no.  1)  and  Lissitzky's  Klinom  krasnym  bei  belykh 
{Beat  the  Whites  with  the  Red  Wedge,  1920,  plate  no.  138)  both 
emanate  from  circumstances  which,  if  scarcely  constituting  a 
"glorious  dawn,"  nonetheless  were  self-consciously  heroic.  For 
Blok,  events  were  epochal  on  a  scale  transcending  even  that  of 
the  French  Revolution,  and  bore  comparison  only  with  the  very 
beginnings  of  our  tradition — which  is  to  say,  the  start  of  the 

Christian  era. 

One  of  these  emblematic  works  is  three-dimensional,  the 
other  two-dimensional;  both,  however,  transgressed  their 
framing  norms,  of  sculpture  and  of  painting,  respectively:  one 
moved  from  constructed  reliefs  in  the  direction  of  architecture, 
the  other  from  Suprematist  painting  in  the  direction  of  mass- 
produced  posters.  Both  construct  their  primary  message — of 
commitment  to  the  all-transforming  international  socialist 
revolution — through  an  equivalent  transformation  of  norms  at 
the  levels  of  perception  and  technique.  It  is  this  attempted 
integration  on  which  their  emblematic  status  depends  as  on 
nothing  else,  transcending  the  failure  of  either  properly  to  be 
realized.  They  were,  in  fact,  perhaps  unrealizable.  It  is  what 
one  might  call  their  materialistic  idealism,  emanating  from  a 
situation  where  the  Utopian  seemed  to  be  ingrained  in 
reality — where  heaven  seemed  to  roll  up  like  parchment,  as 
Shklovskii  wrote — that  confers  the  resilience  they  have  shown 
as  images  of  twentieth-century  revolution,  that  connotes  so 
strongly  the  positive  side  of  socialism,  when  so  much  that  has 
been  claimed  in  the  name  of  that  concept  has  been  brutal  and 
barren.  It  is  both  their  success  and  their  failure — and  the 
marker,  perhaps,  of  a  wider  success  and  failure  than  their 
own — that  these  unrealizable  projects  stand  at  the  high-water 
mark  of  that  union  of  social  and  aesthetic  transformation 
toward  which  they  must  have  seemed,  at  the  moment  of  their 
making,  only  a  first  step.  Both  were  produced  in  what  later 
became  defined  as  the  "first  period":  that  period  of 
revolutionary  upturn  caused  by  World  War  I  and  its  aftermath. 
It  was  marked  domestically  by  War  Communism  and  the 
struggle  to  secure  the  Revolution,  and  internationally  by  the 
founding  of  the  Third,  Communist,  International  to  seize  the 
moment  and  promote  the  extension  of  the  Revolution  on  a 
worldwide  basis.  These  spheres  formed  the  respective  contexts 
of  Tatlin's  and  Lissitzky's  interventions. 

Perhaps  the  most  noteworthy  feature  of  these  and  similar 
works,  given  the  general  disrepute  into  which  the  Revolution 
has  fallen — as  an  antidemocratic  coup  d'etat,  for  example — is 
the  unproblematic  nature  of  the  avant-garde's  commitment  to 
the  October  Revolution.  Maiakovskii  later  wrote:  "To  accept  or 
not  to  accept?  There  was  no  such  problem  for  me  (and  other 
Moscow  futurists).  It  was  my  revolution.  I  went  to  the 
Smolnyi.  I  did  everything  that  was  necessary.  Meetings 
began."14  The  avant-garde's  dominance  in  the  cultural  field  in 
these  early  years  was  not  uncontested,  either  from  within  Party 
ranks  or  by  Proletkul't  (Proletarian  Culture)  or  by  more 
conservative  artists.  It  did,  however,  exist,  and  the  slogans 
about  organization  were  backed  up  by  action.  Tatlin  was  not 
one  for  overextended  rehearsals  of  intent;  his  record,  however, 
speaks  for  itself.  Tatlin's  desire  for  a  unified  artists' 
organization,  expressed  as  early  as  1914,  could  have  remained 
avant-gardist  rhetoric.  The  Revolution,  however,  as  well  as 
putting  into  circulation  the  slogan  of  "building  the  new  life," 
offered  a  variety  of  ways  for  doing  so.  Tatlin,  in  addition  to  his 
involvement  with  Izo  Narkompros  (the  Department  of  Fine 
Arts  of  the  People's  Commissariat  of  Enlightenment), 
organized  the  Union  of  New  Tendencies  in  Art,  an  umbrella 
organization  of  left  artists  in  Petrograd.  This  union,  the 
Academy  of  Arts,  and  Ginkhuk  (the  State  Institute  of  Artistic- 
Culture)  were  the  Petrograd  equivalents  of  the  avant-garde's 
institutional  bases  and  organizations  in  Moscow,  such  as 
Vkhutemas  and  the  First  Working  Group  of  Constructivists  of 
Inkhuk.  This  ground  is  fairly  well  trodden.  But  without 
overemphasizing  the  avant-garde's  prominence — which  then 
tends  to  cause  problems  in  accounting  for  its  later 
tribulations — it  is  worth  recognizing  the  depth  of 
organizational  and  institutional,  as  well  as  theoretical, 
commitment  to  the  practice  of  building  the  new  life.  The 

conditions  of  War  Communism  seemed  dramatically  to  draw  a 
line  between  the  new  life  and  what  had  gone  before. 
Conventional  forms  of  class  distinction  and  the  bourgeois 
individualism  connected  to  them  were  occluded  by  the 
enforced  collectivity  of  the  struggle  to  sustain  the  Revolution. 

These  conditions  did  not,  however,  last  forever;  and  it  is  in 
the  moves  away  from  them  that  it  becomes  possible  to  speak  of 
a  rather  different  sense  of  a  politics  of  the  avant-garde.  It  is 
worth  underlining,  though,  the  way  in  which  War 
Communism  framed  the  project  of  Constructivism,  of 
"material  culture,"  and  of  "art  into  production."  Still  more 
fundamentally,  however,  War  Communism  constitutes  the 
siting  of  the  whole  ethos  of  a  single-minded  bending  of  effort 
to  one  end,  of  suspicion  toward  all  vestiges  of  the  past — 
particularly  anything  related  to  a  discredited  sense  of  opulence, 
which  included,  of  course,  aesthetic  contemplation,  indeed 
anything  carrying  with  it  the  stigma  of  leisured  existence. 
Heroization  of  the  Red  Army,  a  total  commitment  to  the 
security  of  the  Revolution  against  the  still  extant  White  threat, 
and,  in  consort  with  those  defensive  tasks,  the  positive  sense  of 
a  new  world  to  be  built  from  the  ground  up  all  militated 
against  the  toleration  of  revanchism."  The  greatest  single  factor 
working  in  favor  of  the  October  Revolution  was,  of  course,  that 
it  had  been  successful;  audacity  and  courage  broke  through  the 
hollowed-out  protocols  of  the  old.  And  now  War  Communism, 
apparently  against  even  greater  odds,  had  won  again.  As  such, 
it  was  also  a  victory  for  the  culture  of  the  avant-garde,  which, 
alone  among  the  intelligentsia,  had  supported  the  Revolution. 
To  the  avant-garde,  in  the  process  of  thinking  its  way  out  of 
bourgeois  art  for  art's  sake  and  formal  experimentation  into  an 
integrated  program  for  deploying  the  lessons  of  that  past 
toward  the  building  of  the  Communist  future,  the  message 
must  have  been  clear:  "Press  on."  In  sum,  then,  the  major 
works  of  the  avant-garde's  new  project  of  "art  into  production," 
that  which  defined  both  its  distance  from  an  art  of 
contemplation  and  its  commitment  to  participation  in  the 
wider  revolutionary  project,  were  in  place  by  the  end  of  the 
Civil  War.  But  War  Communism  was  something  very  like  a 
Pyrrhic  victory. 

The  New  Economic  Policy  was  adopted  in  March  1921  at 
the  Party's  historic  Tenth  Congress.  NEP,  a  government- 
promoted  reintroduction  of  capitalism  in  order  to  restart  the 
shattered  economy,  could  not  have  been  more  unlike  War 
Communism.  Centralized  control  of  all  areas  was  replaced  by 
the  fostering  of  private  entrepreneurship.  The  working  class, 
though  numerically  small,  had  been  hegemonic  in  the  worker- 
peasant  alliance  that  allowed  the  Bolsheviks  to  oust  the 
Provisional  Government  that  had  replaced  the  unlamented 
Romanov  dynasty  in  February  1917.  After  the  Civil  War,  with 
not  only  the  bourgeoisie  but  also  the  proletariat  socially 
atomized,  the  peasantry  were  the  only  social  class  to  emerge 
relatively  intact.  NEP  was  summed  up  in  Bukharin's  advice  to 
the  peasantry:  "Enrich  yourselves."  Which  is  to  say,  the  balance 
of  forces  shifted  from  planning  to  that  which  is  nowadays 
usually  dubbed  "enterprise,"  but  for  which  the  terms  "greed" 
and  "self-seeking"  often  do  just  as  well.  The  balance  shifted 
from  town  to  country  and  from  proletarians  not  just  to 
peasants  but  to  the  "Nepmen,"  the  new  entrepreneurial  class  of 
merchants  and  middlemen  which  NEP  brought  into  being — or 
rather,  released  from  the  amber  into  which  they  had  been  set 
by  October  and  War  Communism.  NEP  society  was  the 
dominant  social  formation  in  the  Soviet  Union  in  the  mid- 
1920s,  unlike  both  the  heroic  revolutionary  period  which 
preceded  it  and  the  increasing  centralization  of  the  Five-Year 
Plans  which  followed.  In  fact,  it  was  out  of  the  political 
contestation,  the  victories  and  defeats  of  NEP,  that  the  Five- 
Year  Plans  were  born.  It  has  been  convincingly  argued,  for 

example,  by  Michael  Reiman,  that  what  one  might  call  the 
culture  of  the  Five-Year  Plans,  rudimentary  at  first  but 
growing  in  scope,  was  an  ad  hoc  response  to  the  eventual  crisis 
of  NEP,  rather  than  the  result  of  any  long-term  strategy,  let 
alone  a  logical  or  predetermined  outcome  of  the  Revolution 
itself.26  By  1927-28,  the  Revolution  was,  in  any  case,  pretty 
much  ancient  history,  there  to  be  deployed  behind  whichever 
group  was  powerful  enough  to  annex  it  and  its  prestige  to  its 
own  particular  program.  From  1921  to  about  1928,  the 
conditions  of  NEP,  not  the  crucible  of  War  Communism  in 
which  it  had  been  formed,  were  the  operating  conditions  of  the 
erstwhile  avant-garde. 

The  attitude  of  the  avant-garde  toward  NEP  is,  therefore,  a 
matter  of  some  importance  to  clarifying  its  politics.  And, 
indeed,  in  a  scattered  but  relatively  consistent  commentary,  a 
position  emerges.  This  is  partly  born  of  antipathy  to  a  way  of 
life  in  which,  as  Serge  noted,  "classes  are  growing  up  around  us 
again."  Thus  Vertov,  writing  in  1926:  "We  have  not  come  to 
cinema  in  order  to  feed  fairy  tales  to  the  Nepman  and 
Nepwoman  lounging  in  the  loges  of  our  first-class  movie 
theaters."27  This  was  no  fantasy.  It  finds  corroboration  in  the 
diary  kept  by  Walter  Benjamin  of  his  trip  to  Moscow.  On  a 
visit  to  the  theater  in  December  1926,  he  notes,  "a  waft  of 
perfume  greeted  me  as  I  entered,"  and  he  continues:  "I  did  not 
see  a  single  communist  in  a  blue  tunic,  but  there  were  several 
types  who  would  not  have  been  out  of  place  in  any  of  George 
Grosz's  albums."28  This  situation  points  to  a  second  strand  in 
the  avant-garde's  response  to  NEP.  For  it  was  the  emergence  of 
these  new  social  layers  and  their  considerable  emphasis  upon 
consumption  that  provided  one  important  basis  for  the 
reinflation  of  those  traditional  approaches  to  art-making  and 
the  social  role  of  art  which  had  been  eclipsed  in  the 
revolutionary  period.  The  avant-garde  was  opposed  both  to 
NEP's  reemergent  social  stratification  and  to  the  opening  this 
afforded  to  more  conservative  types  of  cultural  practice. 

It  is  a  commonplace  of  art  history  that  the  avant-garde  was 
unpopular  due  to  the  "innate  visual  conservatism"  of  the 
population  at  large.29  Avant-garde  commentators  themselves, 
however,  offer  a  description  of  a  more  contested  site.  Stepanova 
said  that  photomontage  was  popular  in  workplaces  and 
offices.'0  Brik,  while  he  acknowledged  the  difficulties 
experienced  by  the  Constructivists,  implied  a  distinction 
between  the  relationship  of  the  new  techniques  to  workers' 
experience  in  production  and  the  antipathy  of  the  NEP 
bourgeoisie,  with  its  preference  for  conventional  notions  of  art 
as  a  luxury  good."  More  explicitly,  Vertov  remarked  upon  the 
new  lease  on  life  given  to  fictional  films  that  "recall  the  old 
'artistic'  models  just  as  Nepmen  recall  the  old  bourgeoisie."'2 
At  the  same  time,  however,  he  also  discerned  a  response  along 
class  lines,  noting  how  Kino-pravda  {Cinema-Truth)  newsreels 
"are  boycotted  by  film  distributors,  by  the  bourgeois  and 
semibourgeois  public"  yet  "shown  daily  in  many  workers'  clubs 
in  Moscow  and  the  provinces  with  great  success";"  and  he  went 
on  devastatingly  to  turn  the  tables  on  the  new  societal 
"normalization":  "If  the  NEP  audience  prefers  'love'  or  'crime' 
dramas  that  doesn't  mean  that  our  works  are  unfit.  It  means 
the  public  is."  Fit  or  unfit  for  what,  is  the  question;  and  it  has 
only  to  be  raised  for  the  answer  to  be -clear:  it  was  the  project  of 
building  a  new  collective  society  that  was  foundering  under 
NEP  conditions.  As  Shklovskii  put  it:  "The  great  passion  of 
Lef .  .  .  was  a  desire  to  participate  in  the  making  of  a  new 
life."'4  Yet  Serge  repeatedly  notes  how  under  NEP  "symptoms 
of  bourgeoisification"  became  prevalent,  how  "money 
lubricated  and  befouled  the  entire  machine  just  as  under 
capitalism,"  how  "by  and  large,  order  was  returning"'5 — and 
whom  this  suited. 

Vertov's  advertising  films  for  Mossel'prom  (the  Moscow 


Agricultural  Industry)  and  GUM,  the  state  department  store, 
were  echoed  in  the  mid-i920s  by  the  various  advertising  and 
packaging  projects  undertaken  by  Rodchenko  and 
Maiakovskii.  In  the  light  of  our  own  sleek  consumer  economy, 
these  frequently  appear  no  more  than  quaint,  yet  in  the  context 
of  NEP  it  is  a  serious  point  that  Rodchenko,  Maiakovskii,  and 
Vertov  were  committing  their  expertise  to  the  state  sector. 
There  were  degrees  of  emphasis:  Vertov,  as  remarked  above, 
condemned  crime  films,  while  Rodchenko  successfully 
designed  covers  for  Marietta  Shaginian's  "Jim  Dollar"  detective 
stories.  But  this  does  little  more  than  indicate  that  there  was 
room  for  diversity  within  an  overall  avant-garde  commitment 
to  the  legacy  of  the  Revolution  and  struggle  against  its 
perceived  betrayal  under  NER  The  evidence  is  in  the  state- 
sector  advertisements,  the  candy  wrappers  with  little  verses 
promoting  industry,  and  posters  for  "social  responsibility" 
programs  such  as  Rodchenko's  Knigi  {Books)  for  a  literary  drive 
in  1925.  These  are  quite  distinct  from  the  emphasis  on  private 
enterprise  and  profit  which  had  gained  ground.  And,  should  it 
need  underlining,  a  politics  was  at  stake  here. 

Politics  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  committees.  In  a 
revolutionary  situation,  or  during  an  attempt  to  sustain  a 
revolutionary  perspective,  all  social  activity  contains  a  political 
dimension,  and  this  includes  areas  which  bourgeois  culture 
fences  off  as  the  province  of  private  taste — as,  paradigmatically, 
areas  of  freedom  from  politics.  In  1936,  one  of  the  first  things 
George  Orwell  noticed  when  he  arrived  in  revolutionary 
Barcelona  was  people's  clothes.  There  were  virtually  "no  'well- 
dressed'  people  at  all."  Nearly  everyone  was  in  "rough 
working-class  clothes."'6  Though  it  has  obviously  on  occasion 
been  a  signifier  of  political  meaning,  clothing,  at  least  in  this 
practical  sense,  has  not  normally  been  perceived  as  a  site  of 
political  meaning,  at  least  not  until  very  recently.  Yet  in  1924 
Tatlin  produced  his  famous  designs  for  a  stove,  a  coat,  and  a 
suit.  These  are  frequently  treated  as  eccentricities,  without  a 
hope  of  going  into  production,  at  best  an  index  of  utopianism 
and,  as  such,  evidence  of  the  head-in-the-clouds  mentality  of 
"impractical"  artists,  whatever  their  Productivist  rhetoric.  Such 
an  explanation  is  normative  with  respect  to  a  cultural  division 
of  labor.  The  situation  can,  however,  be  read  differently,  as 
intentionally  disruptive  of  such  norms — a  possibility  which 
the  orthodox  assumption  closes  down.  Tatlin  and  his  colleagues 
did  attempt  to  form  working  relations  with  organizations  for 
the  mass  production  of  goods  and  textiles,  but  were  generally 
unsuccessful.  Larissa  Zhadova  quotes  a  contemporary  observer, 
K.  Miklashevski,  to  the  effect  that  Tatlin,  in  a  lecture, 
"expressed  his  dissatisfaction  with  authorities  who  did  not 
really  support  his  endeavors  to  work  in  industrial  concerns."'" 
This  is  to  say,  it  was  the  "authorities"  who  appeared  to  frustrate 
the  artist-constructors  in  their  attempts  to  turn  art  into 
production,  not  the  sheer  impracticality  of  the  projects  in  the 
first  place.  And  these  were  managers  of  NEP  concerns  whom  it 
behooved  to  make  a  profit  rather  than  build  a  new  society.  As 
Maiakovskii  commented  in  the  first  issue  of  Novyi  LefiNew 
Lef)  in  1927:  "Market  demand  has  become  for  many  people  the 
measure  of  value  as  far  as  cultural  phenomena  are  concerned.""' 
Serge  spoke  of  the  sometimes  austere  morality  of  Bolshevism, 
the  egalitarianism  of  early  Soviet  society'9  In  like  manner,  the 
historian  Selim  Khan-Magomedov  has  noted  as  one  of  the  key 
components  of  life  after  the  Revolution  which  framed 
Constructivism  "a  marked  asceticism  in  the  habits,  clothing, 
and  official  and  social  life"  of  the  revolutionaries,  as  distinct 
from  "the  behavior  of  the  social  elite  that  had  been  reborn  with 
the  NEP"4°  Brik  noted  of  Rodchenko's  Constructivist  design 
work  that  "artists  turn  their  back  on  him.  Irritated  factory 
managers  reject  him.  The  petit-bourgeois  goggles  .  .  ."4'  Tatlin 
produced  a  montage  contrasting  his  suit  with  bourgeois  lounge 

suits,  a  contrast  which  is  explicitly  linked  by  Zhadova  to  NEP 
conditions.  His  captions  claimed  the  new  clothing  "satisfies 
hygienic  requirements  and  lasts  long,"  whereas  the  other  is 
"unhygienic  and  they  wear  it  only  because  they  think  it  is 
beautiful."42  The  contrast  is  perhaps  a  little  stark  for  us.  But 
what  it  implies  is  that  Tatlin's  is  a  piece  of  work  less  the 
product  of  unworkable  eccentricity  than  of  a  refusal  of  NEP 
conditions  at  the  level  of  clothing:  a  refusal  of  the  reassertion  of 
a  bourgeois,  market-fixated  mechanism  of  fashion,  and  a 
determination  to  design  for  "this  man  [who]  is  a  worker  and 
will  use  the  object  in  question  in  the  working  life  he  leads."4' 

Constructivist  interventions  in  the  field  of  practical  design 
in  the  mid-i920s  remained  on  a  relatively  small  scale.  There 
was  perhaps  more  activity  in  the  fields  of  theater  and  graphic 
design,  but  still  it  fell  far  short  of  the  aspiration  to  frame  a  new 
way  of  life  with  a  "culture  of  materials"  which  would 
dialectically  help  to  precipitate  a  new  consciousness,  new  kinds 
of  social  individuals  who  would  themselves  go  on  to  live  and, 
in  turn,  transform  that  new  life.  It  is  all  too  easy  to  see  this 
failure,  from  the  dubious  vantage  point  of  our  own  monopoly- 
capitalist  economies,  as  a  result  either  of  the  idealism  of  the 
projects  themselves  or  the  impatience  of  those  "really"  leading 
the  revolutionary  process  for  such  luxuries  when  more  basic 
products  were  required.  There  is  obviously  some  truth  in 
this — it  has  the  ring  of  the  way  the  world  works.  But  the 
picture  is  complicated  by  the  specific  nature  of  the  social 
formation  which  replaced  War  Communism  and  which  gave 
renewed  breathing  space  to  social  stratification  and 
motivations  more  often  associated  with  the  bourgeois  past. 
Small  wonder  that  "building  the  new  life"  foundered  in  a 
society  which  powerfully  foregrounded  the  reinstatement  of 
elements  of  the  old  one.  Constructivism  in  these  conditions, 
trying  to  push  ahead  with  the  sociopolitical  transformation  put 
on  the  agenda  by  the  October  Revolution  but  subsequently 
marginalized  by  the  New  Economic  Policy,  had  more  the 
quality  of  a  rearguard  than  an  avant-garde  action. 

Benjamin  was  frequently  drawn  to  comment  on  the 
situation  obtaining  both  in  literature  and  in  the  society  at 
large.  Only  a  day  or  two  after  his  arrival  in  Moscow  in  1926,  he 
is  noting  "the  political  news:  members  of  the  opposition 
removed  from  important  positions,"  a  situation  which  he 
immediately  links  to  "the  Party's  reactionary  bent  in  cultural 
matters.  The  leftist  movements  which  had  proved  useful 
during  the  period  of  wartime  communism  are  now  being 
completely  discarded."44  The  effect  of  NEP  for  the 
Constructivists  was  obviously  mixed.  War  Communism  had 
saved  the  Revolution,  but  the  militarization  of  society  had 
wrecked  the  revolution's  social  base.  NEP  had  saved  the 
economy,  and  offered  a  more  normal  framework  of  legality  for 
everyday  civilian  life,  but  at  the  cost  of  increasing  stratification 
and  the  occlusion  of  the  whole  vision  of  a  socialist  society  based 
in  the  working  class.  In  such  a  situation,  then,  what  was  it  for 
Maiakovskii  to  write,  in  1925,  "To  build  a  new  culture  a  clean 
sweep  is  needed.  The  sweep  of  the  October  revolution  is 
needed"?  Certainly,  the  significance  of  an  appeal  to  October 
during  NEP  was  far  from  univocal.  For  Serge's  "fat  shopkeeper 
enriched  by  the  sale  at  speculative  prices  of  articles 
manufactured  by  our  socialist  industry"  it  was  time  to  breathe 
a  sigh  of  relief  that  order  was  being  restored  and  the  dark  days 
of  1919  put  behind  for  good.41  It  is  unlikely  he  would  have 
apostrophized  October's  new  broom  other  than  to  pay  lip 
service  to  the  origins  of  a  new  status  quo.  It  was  a  different 
matter  for  the  avant-garde.  In  1923  Nikolai  Aseev  commented, 
"the  waves  of  NEP  were  already  rolling  overboard  in  the 
revolutionary  ship."  One  had  to  "hold  onto  the  balustrades  in 
order  not  to  be  swept  into  the  sea  of  obscurantism  and 
philistinism."  In  particular,  "the  honesty  of  those  people  who 


were  the  first  artists  to  have  reacted  positively  to  the  appeal  for 
the  participation  of  the  intelligentsia  in  the  October  revolution 
was  considered  suspect,  and  their  value  was  constantly 

In  such  a  situation,  the  attempt  to  press  ahead  with  the 
program  of  "art  into  production"  took  on  a  specific  coloring. 
Framed  in  1921  by  Aleksei  Gan  "in  terms  of  the  essential 
distinctive  features  and  requirements  of  communism,"4"  when 
those  "features"  were  extrapolated  from  the  now  abandoned 
War  Communism,  the  very  sense  of  "production"  which  art 
was  to  be  directed  "into"  had  undergone  significant  change.  At 
the  very  least,  rather  than  a  universal  rhetoric,  "art  into 
production"  now  connoted  a  specific  view,  one  with  its  own 
history,  built  out  of  an  acceptance  of  certain  assumptions  and  a 
concomitant  rejection  of  others — which  latter  were,  moreover, 
in  play  as  a  new  status  quo  at  the  level  both  of  a  market- 
oriented  economy  and  an  increasingly  approved  conventional 
art  practice.  Under  NEP,  that  is  to  say,  "art  into  production" 
signified  in  a  system  of  differences:  it  was  unlike  other 
assumptions  about  art  and  about  production.  In  May  1924, 
right  in  the  middle  of  NEP,  Tatlin  offered  a  synoptic  statement 
of  what  was  still  the  task  in  his  lecture  on  "Material  Culture 
and  Its  Role  in  the  Production  of  Life  in  the  USSR":  "to  shed 
light  on  the  tasks  of  production  in  our  country,  and  also  to 
discover  the  place  of  the  artist-constructor  in  production,  in 
relation  to  improving  the  quality  both  of  the  manufactured 
product  and  of  the  organization  of  the  new  way  of  life  in 
general."48  To  an  extent,  of  course,  all  shades  of  opinion  spoke 
of  the  "new  way  of  life,"  but  for  the  Constructivists  in  general 
and  Tatlin  in  particular  this  was  an  assertion  of  continuity  with 
October  and,  indeed,  with  that  prerevolutionary  work  which 
for  them  prefigured  the  social  and  political  revolution.  It  was  a 
restatement  of  such  a  perspective.  As  Tret'iakov  later  wrote,  Lef 
had  been  formed  "in  the  conditions  of  the  New  Economic 
Policy  .  .  .  Lef  means  Left  Front,  and  Left  Front  implies 
opposition  to  any  other  front."49  Khan-Magomedov  has 
commented  on  this  period:  "Rodchenko's  activity  in  the  field 
of  commercial  graphic  art  was  closely  bound  up  with 
straightforward  political  propaganda  .  .  .  Many  of  the  book  and 
magazine  covers  designed  by  Rodchenko  were  really,  despite 
their  small  format  .  .  .  political  posters.  "TO  The  question  is, 
therefore:  is  it  possible  to  be  any  more  specific  about  these 

Dissatisfaction  with  NEP  was  not  confined  to  the  artistic 
avant-garde.  That  is,  in  fact,  one  of  the  central  planks  of  this 
essay.  An  avant-garde  art  group  in  bourgeois  society  can,  of 
course,  withdraw  into  a  specialized  position  which  does  not 
have  any  ready  political  correlation.  That  is  the  nub  of  claims 
for  art's  relative  autonomy  from  society.  It  is  not,  however,  to 
say  that,  even  then,  a  politics  cannot  be  legitimately  attributed 
to  such  a  grouping.  In  the  case  of  the  Soviet  Union  in  the 
1920s,  however,  various  factors  militate  against  concluding  that 
such  was  the  state  of  affairs.  On  the  one  hand,  society  was 
saturated  with  politics,  anyway;  on  the  other,  the  avant-garde 
actually  aspired  to  an  interventionist  role.  Their  practice  was 
not  divorced  from  the  political,  or  at  least  can  be  said  to  have 
had  compacted  into  it  a  political  dimension.  The  latter 
dimension  is  unlikely  to  have  been  the  group's  property  alone, 
evolved  by  extrapolation  solely  from  its  own  art  practice  or 
somehow  preserved  as  a  memory  trace  of  the  original  "big 
bang"  revolution.  There  is  no  reason  why  it  should  have  been. 
The  political  process  evolved,  and  different  perspectives 
emerged  as  time  went  on.  It  is  relatively  improbable  that  a 
small-scale  cultural  grouping  could  have  maintained  a  stance 
fundamentally  at  odds  with  the  political  order  of  the  day  if 
that  order  was  otherwise  in  receipt  of  homogeneous  support.  It 
is  far  more  likely  that,  in  such  a  situation,  its  program  would 

have  been  marked  by  retreats  into  more  orthodox  forms  of 
artistic  activity  paralleling  the  wider  sociopolitical  retreats.  It 
can,  of  course,  be  argued  that  Constructivism  did  undergo 
significant  revision,  for  example,  in  the  use  of  uncut 
photographs  in  factography.  But  this  can  be  seen  more  as  a 
modification  and  adaptation  of  the  program  than  as  a 
straightforward  retreat  from  it. 

There  was,  anyway,  an  approach  to  art-making  which  came 
very  rapidly  to  be  identified  with  NEP,  with  the  sponsorship  of 
official  bodies  such  as  the  trade  unions  and  the  army,  and  the 
provision  of  conventional  portraits  for  the  new  bourgeoisie 
NEP  threw  up.  This  was  AKhRR.  The  position  of  so-called 
Realist  art  in  the  various  groups  which  sprang  up  from  the  end 
of  the  Civil  War  onward  is  considerably  more  complex  with 
regard  to  the  relations  between  its  form  and  its  content  than  is 
often  recognized — even  in  the  case  of  AKhRR  itself,  the  most 
"illusionistic"  of  the  groups,  let  alone  others  like  Ost  (the 
Society  of  Easel  Painters),  which  offered  a  kind  of  combination 
of  avant-garde  technique  and  socially  significant  depicted 
subjects."  Be  that  as  it  may,  the  fact  remains  that  throughout 
this  period  AKhRR  was  at  odds  with  the  avant-garde  art-into- 
production  tendency;  that  it  tended  to  be  identified  with  NEP; 
and  that  the  avant-garde  did  not  significantly  retreat  to  more 
conventional  forms  of  art  practice.  This  suggests  the  existence 
of  a  countervailing  political-ideological  force  in  the  culture 
which  could  enable  and  sustain  distance  from  the  new  status 

There  were,  in  fact,  two  "waves"  of  such  opposition.  There 
had  always  been  small  oppositional  groups  even  during  the 
Civil  War,  but,  with  the  exception  of  the  Kronshtadt 
mutineers,  these  had  been  relatively  marginal,  and  it  is 
doubtful  whether  they  exerted  much  gravitational  pull. 
Circumstances  changed,  however,  as  NEP  progressed.  For  some 
time,  NEP,  though  apparently  reasonably  successful  in  the 
fundamental  task  of  making  the  economy  move  again,  had 
begun  to  generate  its  own  problems.  By  1923,  largely  because 
of  the  concessions  to  the  peasantry,  an  imbalance  arose  between 
industry  and  agriculture.  Industrial  prices  remained  high 
because  of  the  scarcity  of  manufactured  goods.  Conversely, 
agricultural  prices  were  low,  with  the  result  that  there  was  no 
incentive  for  peasants  to  sell  their  produce  to  the  cities:  they 
stood  to  make  little  from  the  transaction  and  there  was  not 
much  in  the  way  of  manufactured  goods  they  required  to  buy, 
anyway.  Because  of  this  "scissors"  crisis,  so  named  due  to  the 
way  these  divergent  tendencies  were  represented  on  a  graph, 
there  arose  again  a  serious  threat  to  the  worker-peasant  alliance 
which  NEP  had  been  intended  to  bolster.  Lenin  was  effectively 
inactive  at  this  point  (and  would  continue  so  until  his  death  in 
January  1924),  and  the  leadership  of  NEP  fell  to  the 
"triumvirate"  of  Stalin  (the  Party  Secretary),  Grigorii  Zinov'ev, 
and  Lev  Kamenev.  An  alternative  proposal  to  cure  the  scissors 
crisis  was  put  forward  by  Trotskii  in  April  1923  at  the  Twelfth 
Party  Congress,  a  proposal  which  hinged  on  the  concept  of 
planning.  As  Isaac  Deutscher  has  pointed  out:  "That  planning 
was  essential  to  a  socialist  economy  was  a  Marxist  axiom  with 
which  the  Bolsheviks  were,  of  course,  familiar,  and  which  they 
had  always  accepted  in  general  terms.  Under  war  communism, 
they  imagined  that  they  were  in  a  position  to  establish 
immediately  a  fully-fledged  planned  economy  .  .  .  But  after  the 
introduction  of  NEP,  when  all  efforts  were  directed  towards 
reviving  the  market  economy,  the  idea  of  planning  suffered 
eclipse.""  Faced  with  a  retreat  from  the  goal  of  a  planned 
socialist  mode  of  production,  and  with  the  concomitant  decline 
in  the  social  power  of  the  working  class  relative  to  the 
peasantry,  Trotskii  now  reintroduced  the  idea  of  "systematically 
broadening  the  scope  of  planning"  with  the  ultimate  aim  of 
"thereby  absorbing  and  abolishing  the  market.""  Some  sense  of 


the  stakes  involved  can  be  gained  from  the  argument  of 
Trotskii's  later  article  "K  sotsializmu  ili  k  kapitalizmu?" 
("Toward  Capitalism  or  Socialism?")  of  August  1925.  NEP  is 
there  seen  as  both  a  combination  of  and  a  competition  between 
these  two  "scissors"  tendencies.  Trotskii,  however,  notes  that  "if 
state  industry  develops  more  slowly  than  agriculture;  if  the 
latter  should  proceed  to  produce  with  increasing  speed  the  two 
extreme  poles  [of]  capitalist  farmers  'above,'  proletarians 
'below,'  this  process  would  of  course  lead  to  a  restoration  of 

In  the  cultural  field,  Tatlin  wrote  two  reports  in  November 
1924  on  the  work  of  his  Section  for  Material  Culture  at  the 
Petrograd  Ginkhuk.  That  he  had  to  do  so,  twice,  is  alone 
indicative  of  the  pressure  the  project  was  coming  under  as  the 
administration  sought  more  biddable  recipients  for  official 
funding."  But  more  to  the  point,  Tatlin  set  his  defense  of  a 
planned  approach  to  the  design  of  material  culture  in  a  context 
of  "anarchy"  reigning  in  production.  This  is,  doubtless,  in  part 
an  observation  about  design  and  production  processes  and  the 
lack  of  headway  being  made  by  integrated  "Constructivist" 
practice.  But  it  also  reads  as  a  reflection  on  the  more  general 
productive  conditions  obtaining  under  NEP,  and  the  absence  of 
planning  in  the  economy.  Contemporary  production,  Tatlin 
noted,  "in  both  town  and  country  in  all  its  manifestations," 
largely  because  of  the  continuing  legacy  of  "industrial  and 
domestic  production  inherited  from  the  old  world,"  was  "in  a 
state  of  anarchy."  Production  was  "splintered  into  chance 
productive  units,"  and  experience  as  a  whole  was  "abnormally 
individualized. "56  This  abnormally  individual  experience  of  life 
and  anarchic  production  process  need  to  be  set  against  the 
avant-garde's  continued  assertion  of  very  different  priorities. 
Their  consistent  appeal  was  to  the  notion  of  a  "collective"  way 
of  life,  a  way  of  life  which,  moreover,  needed  to  be  "organized." 
Thus,  the  course  which  Rodchenko  taught  at  Vkhutemas  was 
envisaged  in  1926  as  producing  a  "new  type  of  engineer"  who 
would  effect  "the  organization  and  rationalization  of 
production."5"  Tatlin  likewise  viewed  his  role  as  that  of  the 
"organizer  of  everyday  life"  in  an  article  of  1929.  Quite  contrary 
to  these  aspirations,  daily  life  under  NEP  was,  as  Maiakovskii 
described  it,  a  "way  of  life  which  has  not  been  altered  in  almost 
any  respect — the  way  of  life  which  is  now  our  worst  enemy, 
which  makes  us  bourgeois."58  These  arguments  are  consistent 
across  the  decade,  yet  under  NEP,  arguments  about  the  need 
for  organization  and  planned  production  would  have  been 
difficult  for  the  Constructivists  to  sustain  without  examples  of 
more  concretely  theorized  programs  in  the  political-economic 
sphere.  Trotskii's  proposals,  however,  although  they  came  to 
constitute  the  cornerstone  of  a  political  program,  basically 
went  unheeded  in  1923  by  a  Party  organization  which,  in 
Deutscher's  words,  "considered  NEP  almost  incompatible  with 
planning,"  and  thought  it  necessary  instead  to  emphasize  the 
"enterprise"  economy's  stability  and  longevity  in  order  "to 
strengthen  the  peasants'  and  the  merchants'  confidence  in  it."5' 

Other  developments  were  also  afoot  in  the  Soviet  system. 
At  the  same  time  as  the  scissors  crisis  grew  in  the  economy,  the 
"blades"  moving  ever  wider  apart  through  the  autumn,  1923 
also  saw  the  consolidation  of  the  bloc  of  Party  bureaucrats 
owing  allegiance  more  to  the  central  power  structure  than  to 
the  confidence  of  workers  at  the  base.  This  led  to  a 
qualitatively  new  situation:  an  organization  in  which 
"alignments  were  temporary  blocs  around  concrete  proposals 
and  issues"  was  replaced  by  one  of  "a  permanent  power  caucus 
in  the  highest  body  of  the  party,  whose  purpose  was  to  preserve 
control  in  its  hands  regardless  of  the  issues  at  stake."60  As  the 
French  socialist  Boris  Souvarine  put  it,  the  "dictatorship  of  the 
proletariat"  was  being  replaced  by  the  "dictatorship  of  the 
secretariat."  In  the  summer  and  autumn  of  1923,  because  of  the 

mixture  of  economic  pressure  and  the  lack  of  adequate  avenues 
of  political  expression,  a  wave  of  industrial  militancy  struck 
Moscow  and  Petrograd,  extending  even  to  the  possibility  of  a 
general  strike:  overall,  the  most  powerful  political  challenge  to 
the  leadership  since  Kronshtadt.  One  result  of  this  changed 
situation  was  the  formalization  and  extension  of  the  position 
broached  by  Trotskii  at  the  Twelfth  Congress  in  the  Platform 
of  the  Forty-Six,  a  statement  by  a  group  of  leading  figures  in 
the  Party  which  criticized  the  authorities  for  their  handling  of 
the  economy  and  the  erosion  of  democracy.  October  1923  is 
thus  usually  treated  as  marking  the  birth  of  the  Left 

The  pressure  was  sufficient,  despite  the  ban  on  other  parties 
and  on  oppositional  groups  within  the  Communist  Party  itself, 
to  force  the  leadership  to  open  up  a  debate  in  the  pages  of  the 
press.  The  effect  was  swift,  measurable  not  least  by  the 
doubling  of  Pravda's  circulation.  The  greatest  effect  was  felt  in 
the  army — which  had  been  Trotskii's  base  since  he  reorganized 
it  to  defend  the  Revolution  in  1918 — but  the  Left  Opposition 
was  also  strong  in  the  youth  organizations  and  in  the 
universities  and  other  higher-educational  institutions.  Despite 
this  considerable  support  for  the  opposition  at  the  system's 
roots,  however,  the  newly  functioning  bureaucratic  apparatus, 
which  had  been  in  gear  since  the  Party  Congress  in  the  spring, 
was  able  to  ensure  that  by  the  time  the  Thirteenth  Party 
Conference  came  around  in  January  1924,  a  support  which  in 
terms  of  voting  at  district  level  was  running  at  thirty-six 
percent  (and  which  was  possibly  even  higher  in  individual 
party  groups,  for  which  results  were  not  announced)  was 
converted  into  a  mere  three  delegates  at  the  conference  itself. 
By  the  time  of  the  Thirteenth  Congress  a  few  months  later,  in 
May,  Trotskii  had  been  effectively  isolated — a  process  which 
was  then  repeated  in  the  international  organization  at  the  Fifth 
Congress  of  the  Comintern  in  June. 

This  very  process  of  reaction  does,  however,  lend  a  certain 
support  to  the  hypothesis  of  a  relationship  between  the  Soviet 
avant-garde  of  the  1920s  and  the  political  Left  Opposition.  In 
the  wake  of  the  opposition's  decline,  1924  witnessed  a  major 
purge  of  the  institutions  of  higher  education.  It  is  well  known 
that  Vkhutemas  was  one  of  the  major  institutional  sites  of 
Constructivism — though,  as  Lodder  has  established,  the 
Constructivist  influence  was  by  no  means  coherent  across  the 
institution  as  a  whole.  (It  is  only  recently,  in  the  work  of 
Lodder  and  others,  that  a  clear  picture  of  the  scope  of 
Vkhutemas  has  been  offered.)  Vkhutemas  was  not,  however,  an 
isolated  institution  but  part  of  a  system  of  institutions  of 
higher  education,  the  VUZy,  and  in  particular  of  institutions  of 
higher  technical  education  (the  VTUZy).6'  The  precise 
relationship  of  Vkhutemas,  from  1926  reorganized  as  Vkhutein 
(the  Higher  Artistic-Technical  Institute),  to  the  other 
institutions  of  higher  technical  education  is  not  clear.  A 
relationship  did  exist,  however,  since  the  original  decree  by 
which  Vkhutemas  was  brought  into  being  concerned  its  role  in 
the  reorganization  and  reconstruction  of  production  in  the 
country  at  large:  a  task  which  was  assigned  to  a  wide  range  of 
practical  and  technical  specialisms,  not  something  confined  to 
the  one  institution.  (A  case  in  point  is  the  Rabfak  [the 
Workers'  Faculty],  quite  often  mentioned  in  accounts  of 
Vkhutemas  as  an  avenue  whereby  workers  without  previous 
qualification  could  be  brought  up  to  a  sufficient  standard  to 
allow  them  to  continue  with  the  new  art  and  design  education. 
Rabfaks,  however,  were  part  of  a  system,  attached  to  all  the 
VTUZy,  not  an  egalitarian  feature  of  Vkhutemas  alone.)  It 
would  be  unusual  if  there  were  no  contact  between  the 
students  at  such  institutions,  particularly  in  a  period  with  a 
high  profile  of  ideological  and  political  activity.  One  obvious 
avenue  would  be  through  Party  meetings,  but  interaction 


would  also  have  taken  place  more  informally,  not  least  in 
cultural  pursuits.  Thus  in  Petrograd  in  May  1923,  Tatlin  put  on 
a  memorial  performance  of  Velimir  Khlebnikov's  play  Zangezi. 
Supporting  actors  were  largely  drawn  from  the  student  body, 
and  Tallin's  account  mentions,  in  addition  to  art  students  from 
the  Petrograd  Academy,  students  from  the  university  and  the 
Mining  Institute,  one  of  the  VTUZy.  These  institutions  (in 
marked  contrast  to  the  situation  in  1917,  it  should  be  noted, 
when  being  a  university  student  was  synonymous  with  support 
for  the  Whites)  contained  a  high  proportion  of  actively 
involved  Communist  students,  a  "large  majority"  of  whom, 
according  to  Sheila  Fitzpatrick,  were  for  the  Trotskiist 
opposition  in  1923-24. 62  In  1924,  a  surprising  ten  percent  of  all 
Party  members  were  students,  and  half  of  them  were  in 
institutions  of  higher  technical  education.  In  Moscow, 
furthermore,  students  comprised  no  less  than  twenty-five 
percent  of  the  Moscow  Party  organization.  A  student  himself  is 
recorded  as  having  commented:  "It  was  a  golden  time  for  the 
Trotskyite  Opposition."'"  With  the  defeat  of  the  opposition, 
however,  a  tremendous  purge  took  place.  Narkompros's  own 
statistics  give  the  figure  of  18,000  students  expelled,  though 
Fitzpatrick  argues  that  the  actual  numbers  were  more  than 
double  this.  More  to  the  point,  most  expulsions  occurred  in 
"the  more  sullied  and  overcrowded  artistic,  socio-economic  and 
pedagogical  VTUZy."64  Given  the  scale  of  this  activity,  it  seems 
highly  unlikely  that  the  avant-garde  within  Vkhutemas,  self- 
consciously positioned  as  a  "left"  within  culture  at  the  cutting 
edge  of  a  new  way  of  life,  and  against  that  life's  erosion  by  the 
bourgeoisifying  tendencies  of  NEP — could  have  remained 
isolated  from  the  wider  oppositional  debate  during  1923  and 
1924.  In  fact,  far  from  remaining  isolated,  it  is  quite  likely  to 
have  drawn  support  from  the  left-oriented  students, 
beleaguered  as  its  adherents  apparently  felt  in  the  NEP 

Later  in  1924,  in  September,  Trotskii's  Uroki  Oktiabria 
{The  Lessons  of  October)  was  published.  His  account  of  the 
October  Revolution  and  its  legacy  was  clearly  intended  to  be 
relevant  to  the  struggle  in  1924.  Having  remarked  that  "up  to 
the  present  time  we  lack  a  single  work  which  gives  us  a 
comprehensive  picture  of  the  October  upheaval,"  he 
commented:  "It  is  as  if  we  thought  that  no  immediate  and 
direct  benefit  for  the  unpostponable  tasks  of  future 
constructive  work  could  be  derived  from  the  study  of 
October."6*  He  obviously  thought  otherwise.  October  could  be 
used  as  a  lens  to  bring  into  focus  the  struggle  against 
counterrevolutionary  forces  in  the  bureaucracy  and  conservative 
aspects  of  the  "worker-peasant  alliance,"  which  latter  NEP  was 
considered  to  be.  The  book's  effect  was  to  unleash  a  second 
phase  of  the  antiopposition  campaign,  the  cumulative  result  of 
which  was  that  by  1925,  the  opposition  which  had  originated  in 
1923  had  been  effectively  silenced.  The  principal  marker  of  this 
defeat  in  the  period  which  followed,  and  one  which  was  to  have 
incalculable  effects  on  the  future  of  socialism,  not  to  mention 
on  the  legacy  of  the  October  Revolution — and,  indeed,  on  the 
revolutionary  project  of  "building  a  new  life" — was  the 
formulation  at  the  end  of  1924  of  the  doctrine  of  "socialism  in 
one  country."  The  Bolshevik  Revolution  had  been  international 
in  scope.  According  to  Trotskii's  theory  of  "uneven  and 
combined  development,"  a  revolutionary  outbreak  could  easily 
occur  in  a  backward  country,  and  not  just  in  a  major 
industrialized  nation  which  had  gone  through  its  capitalist 
phase,  such  as  Britain  or  Germany.  There  was  no  question, 
however,  of  such  a  revolution  being  more  than  a  holding 
operation  to  stimulate  further  revolutions  in  those  advanced 
countries.  There  are  numerous  statements  of  the  implications 
of  this  view,  but  Lenin's  argument  to  the  Third  Congress  of  the 
Comintern  in  1921  is  particularly  clear:  "Even  prior  to  the 

Bolshevik  revolution,  as  well  as  after  it,  we  thought  that  the 
revolution  would  also  occur  either  immediately  or  a  least  very 
soon  in  other  backward  countries  and  in  the  more  highly 
developed  capitalist  countries.  Otherwise  we  would  perish."66 

When  the  revolutionary  wave  ebbed  after  1921  and  the 
capitalist  system  managed  to  stabilize  itself,  the  Russian 
Revolution  was  obviously  going  to  have  to  try  to  hold  out  for 
longer  than  had  been  intended.  NEP  was  one  response  to  this 
development.  The  central  point  is  that  NEP  was  a  temporary 
measure  until  the  capitalist  crisis  reasserted  itself  and  the 
tempo  of  struggle  rose  again,  yet  it  also  transpired  that  NEP 
seemed  in  its  own  fabric  to  be  turning  away  from  this 
perspective.  As  NEP  appeared  to  accommodate  more  and  more 
to  the  norm,  it  was  precisely  the  formation  of  the  Left 
Opposition  within  NEP,  as  Naomi  Allen  has  argued,  which 
now  took  on  the  original  project:  "The  existence  of  an 
organized  Opposition  would  resist  the  free  expansion  of  the 
bureaucracy,  subject  it  to  criticism,  and  perhaps  retard  its 
development  long  enough  to  keep  intact  the  roots  of  the 
proletarian  dictatorship  until  conditions  for  its  existence 
improved."67  Such  an  awaited  capitalist  crisis  did  indeed  occur 
with  the  Wall  Street  Crash  of  1929  and  the  entry  of  the  world 
system  into  profound  slump  during  the  1930s,  a  slump  which 
was  only  definitively  terminated  by  the  outbreak  of  World  War 
II  at  the  end  of  that  decade.  But  by  the  time  of  the  onset  of  the 
crisis  at  the  close  of  the  1920s,  the  revolutionary  movement  had 
undergone  profound  change — and  the  main  symptom  was 
"socialism  in  one  country."  The  idea  of  building  up  an 
independent  industrialized  state  in  Russia  had  been  foreign  to 
the  Bolsheviks.  It  now  became  the  central  plan  of  policy — 
initially  within  the  scope  of  the  mixed,  relatively  unplanned, 
economy  of  NEP.  Later,  however,  as  NEP  itself  entered  its 
terminal  crisis,  the  stage  was  set  for  a  "third  period,"  which 
transformation  is  also  important  for  understanding  the  later 
trajectory  of  the  avant-garde. 

For  the  moment,  however,  what  should  be  noted  is  that  the 
Left  Opposition  of  1923  and  1924,  which  had  been  crushed  by 
1925,  began  to  rise  again  in  a  second  incarnation  in  1926.  The 
paradoxical  factor  here  was  that  those  members  of  the 
triumvirate  who  had  sided  with  Stalin  to  break  the  Left 
Opposition  that  was  centered  on  Trotskii  now  began  to  fear  the 
increasing  concentration  of  power  in  the  hands  of  the  General 
Secretariat.  In  an  abrupt  about-face,  Zinov'ev,  with  his  power 
base  in  Leningrad,  now  joined  forces  with  Trotskii  to 
constitute  a  new  and  more  powerful  united  opposition.  By  this 
time,  Bukharin  had  become  the  main  defender  of  NEP — of,  as 
he  famously  put  it,  "socialism  at  a  snail's  pace" — and  as  such, 
Stalin's  main  ally  against  the  opposition.  This  new  opposition 
reached  a  peak  in  1927,  a  peak,  moreover,  much  higher  than  has 
often  been  thought.  On  the  basis  of  new  evidence,  Reiman  has 
argued  that  "the  importance  of  the  left  opposition  is  often 
underestimated  in  the  literature.  It  is  considered  an  important 
current  in  Soviet  ideological  and  political  life,  a  kind  of 'revolt 
of  the  leaders'  .  .  .  but  many  authors  doubt  that  the  opposition 
had  any  substantial  influence  on  the  mass  of  party  members 
and  even  less  on  broader  sections  of  the  population.  One  can 
hardly  agree  with  such  views."68  Reiman  goes  on  to  cite  an 
impressive  catalogue  of  opposition  successes  in  various 
geographical  regions,  in  sections  of  the  organized  working  class 
in  the  major  cities,  and,  once  again,  in  the  army  and  the  higher 
education  institutions.  There  is  an  international  dimension 
here  as  well  as  a  domestic  one,  which  complicates  the  issue: 
just  as  the  failure  of  the  German  revolution  played  a  part  in  the 
formation  of  the  opposition  in  1923,  so  now  the  disastrous 
policies  of  the  bureaucracy  toward  the  revolution  in  China 
contributed  to  the  force  of  the  opposition  in  1927. 

Whatever  the  multiplicity  of  causes,  the  result  was  a  rise  in 


mass  meetings  of  industrial  workers,  underground  strike 
committees,  and  suchlike.  When  a  leading  oppositionist,  Ivar 
Smilga,  was  being  got  out  of  the  way  by  assignment  to  a 
remote  posting — quite  a  common  tactic  by  the  leadership — a 
crowd  of  two  thousand  people  gathered,  listened  to  speeches  by 
Zinov'ev  and  Trotskii,  and  cheered  Smilga  to  his  train. 
Although  the  united/left  opposition  of  1926— 27  aimed 
principally  to  promote  the  workers'  resistance  to  the  decline 
they  were  suffering  under  NEP,  Fitzpatrick  argues  that 
"Opposition  condemnation  of  NEP  .  .  .  probably  did  arouse  a 
response  among  students."6''  There  was  also  support  in  youth 
organizations.  Overall,  "opposition  propaganda  steadily  grew 
in  intensity.  The  opposition  flooded  party  units  with  leaflets, 
pamphlets  and  other  material  contributing  to  a  further  decline 
in  the  Politburo's  authority  ...  By  the  end  of  July  the  situation 
in  the  party  had  taken  fairly  definite  shape.  The  opposition 
succeeded  in  increasing  its  influence;  it  was  beginning  to  think 
that  a  change  in  the  party  leadership  might  be  attainable  at  the 
forthcoming  15th  Party  Congress.""  Trotskii  later  estimated 
that  in  1927  the  opposition  had  20,000  to  30,000  active 
members  in  Moscow  alone. 

Despite  fierce  internal  conflicts  among  the  leadership, 
culminating  in  the  expulsion  of  Trotskii  and  Zinov'ev  from  the 
Central  Committee,  the  opposition's  influence  continued  to 
grow  throughout  the  summer,  leading  to  the  publication  in 
September  1927  of  the  Platform  of  the  Opposition.  This  echoed 
many  of  the  criticisms  of  NEP  of  the  earlier  opposition,  citing 
the  growth  of  money-commodity  relations,  increasing  social 
stratification,  and  lack  of  democracy,  and  proffered  as  well  a 
newer  condemnation  of  the  policy  of  economic  autarky.  The 
Platform  runs  to  twelve  chapters  in  some  ninety  pages.  It  notes 
that  "there  exist  in  our  society  these  forces  hostile  to  our 
cause — the  kulak,  the  Nepman,  the  bureaucrat"  and 
recommends  a  continuous  struggle  "on  all  sectors  of  the 
economic,  political  and  cultural  fronts.""'  A  week  after  its 
publication,  the  Platform  was  banned.  A  major  shift  was 
necessary  to  implement  the  ban,  requiring  nothing  less  than 
that  the  leadership  alter — that  is,  effectively  break — the  Party's 
own  rules.  The  state  security  forces  (the  GPU),  built  up  by  the 
bureaucracy,  were  turned  against  the  Party  itself.  Reiman 
comments:  "Events  quickly  approached  a  climax.  The 
opposition,  mobilizing  its  considerable  store  of  influence,  tried 
to  make  a  show  of  strength  to  turn  the  situation  to  its  favour. 
During  Leningrad's  celebration  of  the  10th  anniversary  of  the 
October  revolution  in  mid-October  1927,  the  opposition 
suddenly  received  impressive  support.  Trotsky,  Zinoviev  and 
other  oppositionists  who  found  themselves  by  chance  on  one  of 
the  official  reviewing  platforms  as  the  workers  of  Leningrad 
paraded  past,  found  themselves  the  object  of  demonstrative 
greetings  and  cheers  from  the  crowd  of  a  hundred  thousand."  : 

This  situation  was  not  allowed  to  repeat  itself  on  the  official 
anniversary  of  the  Revolution  on  November  7th.  Marches  and 
meetings  were  broken  up,  speakers  howled  down.  The  GPU 
had  entered  fully  onto  the  political  stage,  in  consort  with 
which  another  massive  propaganda  campaign  was  mounted. 
The  October  demonstration  had  proved  to  be  the  limit.  The 
last  demonstration  by  the  Left  Opposition  took  place  on 
November  19,  1927.  At  the  Fifteenth  Party  Congress,  which 
opened  on  December  2nd,  Trotskii  along  with  seventy-five 
other  leading  members  of  the  opposition  was  expelled  from  the 
Party.  Next,  Trotskii  was  informed  by  the  GPU  that  he  was  to 
be  deported  under  article  59  of  the  criminal  code,  which  dealt 
with  counterrevolutionary  activity.  But  such  a  large  crowd 
gathered  on  the  proposed  date,  June  16,  1928 — several  in  the 
crowd  lay  down  on  the  railway  tracks — that  the  authorities  had 
to  resort  to  deception.  According  to  Carr's  account,  the 
departure  was  postponed  for  two  days.  Within  twenty-four 

hours,  however,  Trotskii's  apartment  was  broken  into  by  armed 
police;  he  was  driven  to  an  outlying,  cleared  part  of  the  station 
and  forced  aboard  a  special  train  which  then  linked  up  with  the 
express  well  away  from  Moscow.  After  a  journey  by  truck  and 
sleigh  conveyed  him  another  150  miles  beyond  the  nearest 
railhead,  Trotskii  arrived  in  internal  exile  at  Alma-Ata,  at  "the 
extreme  confines  of  the  USSR,"  on  January  25,  1928.  A  year 
later,  he  was  expelled  from  the  Soviet  Union  altogether.  In 
Reiman's  summary,  "the  basis  for  the  existence  of  any  kind  of 
opposition  whatsoever  inside  the  Soviet  Communist  Party  had 
been  destroyed.  From  then  on  opposition  was  an  unequivocal 
political  crime  bringing  stern  punishment  in  its  train.""5 

The  picture  that  emerges,  then,  is  of  a  nearly  seven-year 
period,  extending  from  the  Tenth  Party  Congress  in  March 
1921  to  the  Fifteenth  Congress  in  December  1927,  during  which 
the  political  direction  of  the  Revolution  was  in  a  continual 
process  of  negotiation  and  contestation.  The  end  results  were  a 
shift  in  basic  premise  from  the  internationalism  of  1917  to  the 
doctrine  of  building  "socialism  in  one  country,"  and  the 
concentration  of  power  in  the  hands  of  a  central  bureaucracy 
led  by  Stalin.  There  were  two  great  waves  of  opposition  to  this 
from  the  left,  in  1923-24  and  again  in  1926-27.  This  opposition 
stood  for  a  return  to  those  principles  of  October  which  it 
perceived  to  be  undermined  by  NEP:  that  is  to  say,  an 
emphasis  on  socialism  rooted  in  the  working  class,  a  reversal  of 
social  stratification,  a  reassumption  of  planning  in  the 
economy,  and  increased  democracy  (as  well  as  a  complex 
international  dimension  with  repercussions  for  the  political 
policy  to  be  pursued  in  places  like  Germany  and  China,  and  for 
the  economic  relationship  of  the  Soviet  Union  to  the  capitalist 

It  had  been  common  for  the  avant-garde  in  art  at  the  time 
of  the  Revolution,  and  even  before,  to  be  referred  to  as  left 
artists.  Thus  Tatlin  was  a  member  of  the  left  bloc  of  the  Union 
of  Art  Workers  in  Petrograd  in  the  period  between  the  two 
revolutions  of  1917.  He  was  also  involved  with  the  left 
federation  of  the  Moscow  Professional  Union  of  Artists  and 
Painters.  The  notion  of  an  artistic  left  was  quite  prevalent, 
both  as  a  form  of  self-description  among  artists  to  distinguish 
themselves  from  "bourgeois"  tendencies  and  as  a  form  of 
criticism  by  those,  either  close  to  the  Party  or  laying  claim  to 
represent  a  "proletarian  culture,"  who  saw  left  art  with  its  roots 
in  the  bourgeois  avant-garde  as  occupying  that  space  where 
petit-bourgeois  individualism  met  anarchistic  or  libertarian 
"ultraleftism."  This  latter  view  must  have  received  succor  from 
Lenin's  pamphlet  critical  of  the  council  Communists  and 
related  groups,  Detskaia  bolezn' " levizny"  v  kommunizme  (Left- 
Wing  Communism:  An  Infantile  Disorder,  1920.)  (It  is  perhaps 
worth  pointing  out  that  the  epithet  refers  less  to  the 
childishness  or  immaturity  of  the  attitude  per  se  than  to  the 
relative  youth  of  the  Communist  movement  which,  as  such,  is 
given  to  wild  enthusiasms  and  excesses  that  need  to  be 
stabilized.)  The  point  is,  the  identification  of  the  avant-garde 
as  an  artistic  left,  in  a  rather  diffuse  sense,  was  commonplace, 
somewhat  after  the  manner  in  which  the  term  "Futurist"  was 

Things  seem  to  be  different,  however,  in  the  succeeding 
period.  When  Maiakovskii  organized  the  Left  Front  of  the  Arts 
around  the  journal  Lef  first  published  in  March  1923,  "left"  was 
not  a  diffuse  term  but  a  label  for  a  coherent  grouping  or,  more 
likely,  regrouping  offerees  intended  to  intervene  in  a  changing 
situation.  Le/lasted  for  seven  issues  and  drew  in  most  of  the 
literary  and  artistic  avant-garde  at  the  levels  of  both  practice 
and  theory.  It  was  quite  a  large  magazine  with  a  print  run  for 
the  first  issue  of  five  thousand  copies.  Three  thousand  copies 
were  printed  of  the  third  issue,  and  there  were  no  less  than  four 
issues  in  1923.  There  were  only  two,  however,  in  1924,  and  the 


final  issue,  with  a  print  run  of  only  1,500,  came  out  early  in 
1925.  Maiakovskii  had,  according  to  Brik,  started  to  think 
about  a  new  "organizational  grouping"  as  early  as  the  end  of 
1921,  but  the  proposal  was  not  worked  out  until  a  year  later."4 
When  the  magazine  came  out  in  early  1923,  the  members  of  Lef 
referred  to  themselves  as  the  "Bolsheviks  of  art"  and  quite 
explicitly  saw  their  context  as  a  situation  where  "now  there  is  a 
respite  from  war  and  hunger,"  i.e.,  the  New  Economic  Policy. 
The  authorities'  attention  had  previously  been  taken  up  with 
winning  the  Civil  War.  Now  this  was  no  longer  the  case,  and 
time  and  resources  could  begin  to  be  devoted  to  a  variety  of 
forms  of  reconstruction.  However,  the  end  of  the  Civil  War  and 
the  introduction  of  NEP  had  given  new  strength  to  other 
cultural  forces,  such  as  figurative  painting  in  the  visual  arts 
and  a  bolstering  of  more  traditional  forms  (which  Trotskii 
called  "Classicism")  in  literature.  The  "Bolsheviks  of  art" 
needed  a  platform  in  order  to  redress  the  balance  which  under 
NEP  seemed  to  be  tilting  away  from  them.  Thus  it  seems  that 
internal  and  external  dynamics  came  together  at  the  beginning 
of  1923:  respectively,  the  need  to  articulate  a  coherent  and 
believable  redescription  of  the  left  perspective  for  a  "communist 
art  (as  part  of  corn-culture  and  communism  in  general!)"  and  a 
context  which  offered  some  hope  for  that  argument  finding  a 
resonance.  There  is  no  point  in  dropping  pennies  down  a  well; 
conversely,  one  does  not  print  five  thousand  copies  of  a 
magazine  intended  to  influence  only  one's  friends.  Whatever  it 
was  that  made  the  project  of  a  Left  Front  of  the  Arts 
sustainable  in  1923  clearly  ebbed  during  1924  and  faded  out 
altogether  in  early  1925.  And  there  is  no  question  of  this  being 
mere  exhaustion  on  the  part  of  Lef's  members.  Rodchenko  and 
Maiakovskii  continued  their  advertising  work  for  the  state 
stores  and  organizations.  Both  flung  themselves  into  work  for 
the  Exposition  Internationale  des  arts  decoratifs  et  industriels 
modernes  {International  Exhibition  of  Contemporary  Decorative  and 
Industrial  Art)  in  Paris.  Rodchenko's  reading  room  for  a 
workers'  club  clearly  embodied  Constructivist-leftist 
principles,  and  Maiakovskii  commissioned  a  new  model  of  the 
Monument  to  the  Third  International  from  Tatlin — which  Tatlin 
built  in  record  time.  It  may  be  that  there  seemed  to  be  more 
scope  for  an  impact  internationally  than  domestically,  given 
what  the  Soviet  cultural  situation  had  become  by  1925 — with 
the  added  insurance  policy  that  work  celebrated  abroad  would 
be  less  susceptible  to  suppression  at  home. 

At  the  end  of  1926,  Benjamin  noted  how  the  regime  was 
"above  all  trying  to  bring  about  a  suspension  of  militant 
communism,  to  usher  in  a  period  free  of  class  conflict,  to 
depoliticize  the  life  of  its  citizens  as  much  as  possible";  "an 
attempt,"  he  wrote,  "is  being  made  to  arrest  the  dynamic  of 
revolutionary  progress  in  the  life  of  the  state. ""s  This  is  not,  of 
course,  to  say  that  everything  was  now  lost.  In  a  way,  that  is 
precisely  the  point:  the  situation  was  still  contested.  For  all  his 
registration  of  the  changes  taking  place  under  NEP  to  the 
detriment  of  the  left  in  both  culture  and  politics,  Benjamin 
was  also  able  to  appreciate  the  vitality  which  was  still  present 
in  Soviet  society:  "Life  here  [is]  so  extraordinarily  meaningful." 
He  goes  on:  "The  entire  scheme  of  existence  of  the  Western 
European  intelligentsia  is  utterly  impoverished  in  comparison 
to  the  countless  constellations  that  offer  themselves  to  an 
individual  here  in  the  space  of  a  month."  In  a  telling  image,  he 
likened  life  in  the  Soviet  Union  to  conditions  in  the  Klondike 
gold  rush:  "It  is  as  insular  and  as  eventful,  as  impoverished  and 
yet  in  the  same  breath  as  full  of  possibilities."7''  When  he 
returned  to  Berlin,  he  was  moved  to  comment  that,  with  all  its 
civilization,  "for  someone  who  has  arrived  from  Moscow,  Berlin 
is  a  dead  city."77  Given  this  situation,  one  should  then  ask  what 
it  was  that  made  Lef  stem  like  a  viable  proposition  again  in 
1927.  And,  having  asked  that  question,  one  has  to  wonder  why 

New  Lef  folded  again  in  1928.  What  doors  opened,  and  then 
closed,  in  1927  and  1928?  For  the  timing,  again,  is  crucial.  As 
has  been  noted  earlier,  Maiakovskii's  New  Lef  editorial  spoke  of 
the  need  to  restart  publication  "because  the  situation  of  culture 
in  the  sphere  of  art  has  been  completely  messed  up,"  and  cited 
the  equation  of  market  demand  with  cultural  value  as  the  main 
problem."8  Yet  there  was  nothing  new  in  this.  Vertov  had  been 
slating  the  "caste  of  parasites,"  the  "NEP  shopkeepers"  who 
"make  drunkards  of  the  proletariat  using  cinema-vodka"  since 
1923-24 — since,  in  fact,  the  heyday  of  the  first  Lef'9  What  gave 
the  spur  to  publish  in  January  1927  was  that,  despite  the  lack 
of  a  periodical,  Maiakovskii  perceived  that  "Lef  has  won  and  is 
winning  in  many  sectors  of  culture."80  Which  is  to  say,  there 
appeared  to  be  an  upturn  in  the  fortunes  of  the  left,  a  new 
audience  for  a  reformulation  of  Lef's  position.  Once  again, 
Benjamin  notes  the  contradictory  currents.  On  the  one  side, 
showing  the  weakness  of  the  cultural  left,  is  the  fact  that 
Grigorii  Lelevich,  a  prominent  figure  on  the  proletarian 
journal  Na  postu  (On  Guard),  was  being  sent  away  from  Moscow 
at  the  Party's  behest — as  we  have  seen  was  also  the  case  with 
political  oppositionists.  On  the  other  is  Benjamin's  record  of 
how  Lelevich  bemoaned  the  fact  that  his  departure  would  cause 
him  to  miss  a  major  speech  to  the  Comintern  by  Trotskii,  and 
how  he  also  claimed  that  "the  Party  is  on  the  verge  of  a 

Things  like  magazines  and  organizations  do  not  ebb  and 
flow  arbitrarily.  Their  rise  and  fall  are  the  function  of  a 
complex  dialectic  of  forces,  internal  and  external  dynamics 
whose  confluence  is  the  organization  or  the  publication.  It 
seems  incontrovertibly  to  be  the  case  that  the  need  for  a 
defined  left  front  in  the  arts  was  fueled  by  a  requirement  to 
contest  the  threatened  hegemony  of  more  conservative  cultural 
forces.  These  forces,  in  turn,  were  fueled  by  NEP.  For  its  part, 
Lef  was  related  to  the  ebb  and  flow  of  a  wider  Left  Opposition 
to  NEP.  As  this  Left  Opposition  fought  the  growing  political 
influence  of  "the  kulak,  the  Nepman,  the  bureaucrat,"  so  the 
left  in  the  cultural  field  echoed  the  slogan  with  a  perception  of 
its  own  opponents  as  "rightist  social  strata,  the  intelligentsia 
and  petty  bourgeoisie."82 

This  is  not  to  say  that  Lef  was  in  any  simple  sense  a  cultural 
"reflection"  of  the  Left  Opposition  or,  indeed,  that  the  latter's 
broad  programs  somehow  overarched  a  more  specific  platform 
of  the  left  in  art.  The  Platform  of  the  Opposition,  all  ninety-odd 
pages  and  twelve  chapters,  makes  no  mention  whatsoever  of 
art,  literature,  film,  architecture,  or  culture  generally;  it  is 
solely  a  political,  socioeconomic  document.  Organizations  of 
artists  and  writers,  let  alone  the  substantive  beliefs  they 
articulate,  do  not  "reflect"  political  events.  Such  is  not  even  an 
adequate  statement  of  much  maligned  "vulgar"  Marxism.  Both 
political  parties  and  cultural  groups  are  superstructural  with 
respect  to  an  underlying  economic  mode  of  production. 
Nonetheless,  a  variety  of  shifting  responses  do  occur  between 
different,  relatively  autonomous  spheres.  In  one  of  the  many 
discussions  among  Asja  Lacis,  Bernhard  Reich,  and  ordinary 
Russians  in  the  sanatorium  where  Lacis  was  undergoing 
treatment,  Benjamin  notes  almost  wearily,  "The  issue  was  once 
again  opposition  within  the  Party."8'  The  key  phrase  is  "once 
again":  the  opposition  was  clearly  a  live  issue.  Not  to  relate  the 
ebbs  and  flows  of  the  left  in  art  to  the  ebbs  and  flows  of  a  more 
broadly  constituted  left,  particularly  in  a  situation  such  as  that 
which  prevailed  in  the  Soviet  Union  during  the  1920s,  is  to 
strip  that  cultural  milieu  of  a  whole  dimension  of  its  identity. 
One  cannot  help  feeling  that  the  persistent  determination  to 
do  so  has  more  to  do  with  ideological  shibboleths  of  our  own 
culture  than  with  any  faithfulness  to  the  revolutionary  avant- 
garde.  The  reality  of  the  Russian  Revolution  still  threatens  a 
capitalist  system — a  system  both  moral  and  economic — and 


the  more  insistently  it  can  be  restricted  in  scope,  rigidified, 
and  made  synonymous  with  the  barbarism  that  supplanted  it, 
the  better,  from  such  a  point  of  view.  To  relate  the  avant-garde 
to  a  site  of  complex  political  (and  social  and  moral) 
contestation  is  not,  however,  to  reduce  it  to  a  reflex  of  that 
political  struggle.  The  debates  within  the  left  front  of  the  arts, 
within  the  various  other  institutions  the  cultural  left 
inhabited,  far  exceeded  in  sophistication  anything  the  political 
left  ever  generated  about  art,  design,  literature,  or  culture  as  a 
whole.  Nonetheless,  by  its  very  nature  that  political  left  was 
alert  to  the  practicalities  of  the  situation  in  ways  which  often 
bypassed  the  artists,  even  though,  ultimately,  they  were 
affected  by  them. 

In  terms,  then,  of  the  political  spectrum  of  the  Revolution 
and  the  NEP  period,  it  appears  fruitful  to  relate  the  erstwhile 
avant-garde,  the  left  front  of  the  arts,  first  of  all  to  the  ethos  of 
October  itself  as  this  was  worked  out  in  the  immediately 
postrevolutionary  "heroic"  phase  of  War  Communism: 
planning,  classlessness,  rejection  of  the  past,  an  almost  tabula- 
rasa-like  sense  of  building  the  new  life  from  the  bottom  up, 
moving  from  analysis  into  synthesis.  And  then  to  relate  it  to 
the  emerging  perspective  of  a  Left  Opposition  in  which 
planning  and  workers'  democracy  remained  priorities  in  the 
face  of  their  erosion  by  the  dominant  forces  of  the  New 
Economic  Policy.  The  avant-garde,  the  left  front,  is  thus 
related  to  the  Left  Opposition.  It  is  so,  however,  not  as  a 
reflection  but  as  kind  of  relatively  autonomous  equivalent.  To 
borrow  from  a  slightly  different  context  Buchloh's  felicitous 
rendering,  it  was  its  "historically  logical  aesthetic  correlative." 
That  is  the  claim  of  this  essay:  that  on  at  least  four  grounds  the 
left  front  of  the  arts  can  be  read  as  the  cultural  correlative  of 
the  predominantly  Trotskiist  Left  Opposition:  in  terms  of 
hostility  to  NEP;  in  terms  of  a  commitment  to  planning;  in 
terms  of  a  requirement  for  a  level  of  working-class  prosperity 
to  consume  the  goods  produced;  and  in  terms  of  a  requirement 
for  industrial  democracy  to  provide  an  environment  in  which 
the  artistic-constructor/engineer  might  function.'4 
Circumstantial  evidence,  such  as  the  penetration  of  the 
institutions  of  higher  education  by  the  ideas  and  organization 
ol  the  left,  and  the  peaks  and  troughs  of  Lef's  own  activity, 
appears  to  support  this  argument.  The  alternatives,  conversely, 
are  less  persuasive:  that  the  avant-garde,  even  at  the  moment  of 
October  and  in  its  aftermath,  was  devoid  of  a  coherent  political 
perspective.  Or,  if  it  may  be  said  to  have  had  a  politics,  that 
this  was  compatible  with  NEP.*'  For  the  reasons  given  above, 
neither  seems  likely.  In  addition  to  which,  an  opposing  artistic 
grouping  appears  to  have  flourished  under  NEP  conditions  and 
to  have  been  able  relatively  to  marginalize  the  left  avant-garde 
during  the  NEP  period. 


Two  principal  questions  remain  concerning  the  politics  of  the 
avant-garde.  I  will  address  them  in  succession.  First:  If  indeed 
Lef  was  a  kind  of  correlate  to,  or  at  least  can  be  said  to  have 
functioned  in  respect  of  some  productive  relationship  with,  the 
Left  Opposition,  why  did  not  the  latter  embrace  it?  The 
relationship  among  Formalism,  Futurism,  and  Marxism  has 
been  the  subject  of  considerable  debate,  and  the  usual  view  is 
that  the  "Marxists"  disapproved  of  the  first  two — of  Formalism 
vehemently,  for  appearing  to  sever  the  link  between  art  and 
society,  and  of  Futurism  for  its  roots  in  the  bourgeois  avant- 
garde,  its  impracticality,  and  its  incomprehensibility  to 
ordinary  people. 

A  reconsideration  might  begin  by  arguing  that  the 
"comprehensibility"  issue  has  been  overstated  and  does  not 
allow  sufficiently  for  developments  in  the  erstwhile  avant- 
garde's  position,  notably  the  prominent  role  played  by 

montage  and  factography.  There  were  also  nuances  to  the 
avant-garde's  concession  that  something  valuable  was  being 
lost  by  abandoning  "Art"  tout  court  to  the  past.  Distinctions 
emerged  quite  early  between  doctrinaire  Productivist  theorists 
and  the  more  flexible  members  of  Lef.  Rodchenko 
exasperatedly  remarked  in  an  Inkhuk  debate  of  April  1922  that 
"if  we  carry  on  discussing,  there  will  never  be  any  actual 
work";86  endless  attempts  to  clarify  the  theory,  that  is,  would 
get  in  the  way  of  what  should  be  quite  pragmatic  responses  to 
the  demands  of  a  changing  productive  context.  Also,  in  an 
extraordinary  allegory  composed  in  1925,  Lissitzky  wrote:  "The 
term  A[rt]  resembles  a  chemist's  graduated  glass.  Each  age 
contributes  its  own  quantity:  for  example,  5  drams  of  the 
perfume  'Coty'  to  tickle  the  nostrils  of  the  fine  gentry.  Or 
another  example,  iocc  of  sulfuric  acid  to  be  thrown  into  the 
face  of  the  ruling  classes.  Or,  15a:  of  some  kind  of  metallic 
solution  that  later  changes  into  a  new  source  of  light. "8^  This 
seems  to  be  an  elliptical  proposition  of  three  stages  of  art:  the 
history  of  art  since  the  Renaissance,  in  the  service  of  the  ruling 
class;  art  as  an  engaged,  combative  form  of  agitation  and 
propaganda  during  the  revolutionary  period,  against  a  class 
system;  and,  finally,  art  as  a  contribution  to  building  the  new 
world,  a  transforming  element.  The  "metallic  solution"  may 
refer  to  practical  design;  the  "new  source  of  light"  is,  however, 
clearly  more.  As  Lissitzky  goes  on  to  say:  "This  A[rt]  is  an 
invention  of  the  mind,  i.e.  a  complex,  where  rationality  is  fused 
with  imagination."88  Offering  a  different  inflection  to  the 
continuing  validity  of  a  notion  of  art,  Maiakovskii  granted  his 
famous  "amnesty"  to  Rembrandt  and  acknowledged  that,  after 
all,  the  Revolution  needed  a  sonnet  as  well  as  a  newspaper.  For 
his  part,  Rodchenko  seems  increasingly  to  have  sought  images 
produced  in  a  modern,  "mechanical"  way  that  would  jolt 
conventional  perceptions  of  the  world,  rather  than  seeking 
simply  to  design  new  bits  of  it.  Whether  this  is  seen  as  a 
"retreat"  or  a  development  from  a  onesided  initial  position  has 
much  to  do  with  the  commentator's  own  perspective  on  and 
sympathy  for  the  problems  of  a  revolutionary  art.  The  October 
group,  formed  as  an  umbrella  organization  for  left  artists  in 
1928,  and  as  such  one  of  the  last  attempts  to  frame  a  modified 
left  position,  likewise  tried  to  effect  a  rapprochement  between 
construction  and  design,  on  the  one  hand,  and  the  production 
of  images,  on  the  other.89 

It  is  worth  recalling  in  this  connection  that  the  status  of 
painting  as  a  possible  locale  for  radical  cultural  practice 
remains  hotly  contested  to  this  day,  and  that  the  assumption 
that  it  was  irrevocably  tied  to  the  past  was  widespread  among 
the  cultural  left  of  the  period  and  not  confined  to  the 
Constructivists.  Benjamin's  essay  of  the  mid-i930s,  "Das 
Kunstwerk  im  Zeitalter  seiner  technischen 
Reproduzierbarkeit"  ("The  Work  of  Art  in  the  Age  of 
Mechanical  Reproduction"),  is  perhaps  the  locus  classicus  of 
the  tendency.  The  aloofness  of  modern  painting — with  its 
rhetoric  of  an  unlearned  aesthetic  sensitivity,  so  easily 
corrupted  into  apologetics  for  a  social  elite — has  won  it  few 
friends  among  socialists.  Vasilii  Kandinskii's  collapsing  of 
socialism  and  historical  materialism  into  the  mire  of  bourgeois 
materialism  and  acquisitiveness  is  only  one  particularly  glaring 
and  uncontrite  example.  Painting's  reactionary  affiliations  were 
not  merely  traceable  to  the  "aura,"  as  Benjamin  termed  it,  in 
which  unique  works  of  art  were  bathed.  The  institution  of 
avant-garde  art  was  permeated  by  haut-bourgeois  exclusivity 
and  snobbishness — which  is,  presumably,  what  led 
Maiakovskii  on  his  trip  to  Paris  in  the  midtwenties  to  liken 
French  artists,  with  the  exception  of  Fernand  Leger,  to  "slimy 
oysters."  In  such  a  perspective,  the  readiness  of  the  left  avant- 
garde  to  search  for  ways  to  democratize  art,  to  render  it  useful 
to  the  revolutionary  social  project,  rather  than  simply  to  bury 


it  and  have  done,  takes  on  a  rather  different  aspect. 

Turning  now  to  the  central  issue  of  the  historical 
confrontation  between  the  avant-garde  and  the  Left 
Opposition,  we  can  locate  its  main  site  in  Trotskii's  Literatura 
i  revoliutsiia  (Literature  and  Revolution)?"  This  study,  written 
mostly  in  1923  and  published  in  1924,  is  contemporaneous  with 
the  first  phase  of  the  Left  Opposition's  ascendancy;  as  such,  it  is 
as  close  as  one  is  likely  to  get  to  an  authoritative  Left 
Opposition  theory  of  art.  The  text,  particularly  its  passages  on 
Tatlin's  Tower,  has  been  subject  to  cavalier  quotation  and 
excerpting,  designed  to  prove  how  intolerant  the  Party 
leadership  was  of  the  avant-garde,  how  the  walls  were  closing 
in  even  by  1924,  and  how  the  course  was  set  for  the  final 
"Marxist"  closure  on  free  artistic  experiment  that  was  realized 
in  the  early  thirties.  In  fact,  any  even  moderately  receptive 
reading  of  Trotskii's  full  text  cannot  fail  to  register  its  relative 
openness.  Not  the  least  interesting  feature  of  it  is  that  a  figure 
with  Trotskii's  commitments  should,  at  that  period,  devote  a 
full-length  treatment  to  this  range  of  questions  at  all.  As  for 
the  views  he  articulates:  he  is  unequivocally  critical  of 
theoretical  Formalism  (not  surprising,  since  it  was 
unequivocally  critical  of  Marxism),  regarding  it  as  a  species  of 
Idealism.  However,  in  the  spectrum  of  artistic  tendencies 
reviewed,  from  aesthetically  conservative  positions,  Symbolism, 
and  the  literary  "fellow  travelers"  through  advocates  of  a 
distinctive  "proletarian  culture,"  Trotskii  repeatedly  gives  the 
benefit  of  the  doubt,  and  indeed  a  kind  of  priority,  to  the 
Futurist-Lef  nexus.  What  he  will  not  do  is  accede  to  demands 
that  the  Party  recognize  any  particular  grouping,  Lef  included, 
as  the  authentic  voice  of  Communist  art.  For  Trotskii,  socialist, 
let  alone  Communist,  culture  lies  in  the  future.  The  shape  it 
will  take  will  be  derived  from  a  classless  society  that  does  not 
yet  exist.  In  the  period  of  the  "proletarian  dictatorship,"  the 
main  criterion  to  be  applied  when  judging  a  work  of  art  is  the 
extent  to  which  it  helps  in  the  future  realization  of  such  a 
culture.  When  weighed  in  these  scales,  Lef,  though  found 
ultimately  wanting  by  Trotskii,  nonetheless  comes  out  fairly 

It  has  to  be  remembered  that  Trotskii  was  not  an  art  critic 
and,  at  this  date,  was  not  overly  familiar  with  the  products  of 
the  European  avant-garde,  having  had  other  things  on  his 
mind  for  most  of  the  preceding  two  decades  since  the  "dress 
rehearsal"  of  1905.  Given  the  unfamiliarity  of  that  avant-garde's 
devices  and  the  threat  these  must  have  posed  to  a  consciousness 
raised  on  the  norms  of  Enlightenment/classical  culture,  it  is 
Trotskii's  bias  in  favor  of  toleration  rather  than  dismissiveness 
that  deserves  our  attention.  His  relative  openness  to  Modernist 
technical  devices  is  marked — compared,  for  example,  to 
Lukacs's  positions  developed  in  the  later  twenties  and  thirties. 
Where  Trotskii  undoubtedly  struggles  is  with  post-Cubist 
techniques,  broadly  speaking,  of  collage-montage  and 
construction.  The  most  sustained  discussions  he  offers  in  this 
respect  are  of  Maiakovskii's  "150,000,000"  and  Tatlin's 
Monument  to  the  Third  International.  What  is  quite  clear  is  that 
the  "flatness"  involved  in  post-Cubist  work,  literary  as  well  as 
visual,  its  relative  "all-overness,"  such  that  conventional 
compositional  dramatics  and  focuses  are  denied,  its  suspension 
of  narrative  developments  and  climaxes,  the  abrupt  shifts  it 
employs  rather  than  orthodox  modulations,  violated 
Trotskii's  canon  of  judgment:  "The  principal  fault  of  futurist 
poetry  even  in  its  best  examples,  lies  in  the  absence  of  a  sense 
of  measure  .  .  .  [Maiakovskii's  images]  quite  often  disintegrate 
the  whole  and  paralyze  the  action  .  .  .  the  whole  piece  has  no 
climax  .  .  .  The  parts  refuse  to  obey  the  whole.  Each  part  tries 
to  be  separate,"  and  so  on.9'  Trotskii's  weak  arguments  about 
function  in  his  treatment  of  Tatlin's  Tower  are  little  more  than 
the  sculptural  equivalent  of  his  difficulties  before  Maiakovskii's 

poem  or,  indeed,  a  painting.  "What  is  it  for"  replaces  "what 
does  it  represent"  as  the  cri  de  coeur  of  one  whose  categories  are 
being  brought  into  question  without  his  having  the  resources 
adequately  to  reply.  As  ever,  the  response  is  to  deploy  the 
criteria  of  the  previously  accepted  paradigm  as  natural, 
indexed — according  to  the  author's  political  disposition — to 
"competence"  or  to  "popularity." 

There  is  nothing  unusual  about  this  kind  of  critical 
difficulty,  it  is  one  of  the  effects  of  specialization  in  modern 
culture.  (It  is  interesting  that  Trotskii  adopts  approximately 
the  same  kind  of  suspended  judgment,  underwritten  by  a 
fundamental  concern  for  the  security  of  the  Revolution,  for 
contemporary  scientific  developments.)  Few  enough  could,  in 
the  early  1920s,  write  with  understanding  about  Cubist 
devices.  What  Trotskii  does  is  to  try  to  rescue  the  impetus  of 
the  work,  of  which  he  approves,  for  a  kind  of  traditional 
humanism  from  whose  refusal  as  the  stock-in-trade  of 
normative  art  that  "impetus,"  paradoxically,  is  derived.  Little 
enough  of  this  was  clear  at  the  time.  For  all  his  condemnation 
of  "pure"  Formalism  in  1923—24,  it  is  an  intriguing  question 
what  Trotskii  would  have  made,  given  his  relative  openness  to 
and  curiosity  about  avant-garde  art,  of  the  "social  Formalism" 
of  Mikhail  Bakhtin,  Pavel  Medvedev,  and  Voloshinov  which 
emerged  in  the  mid-  and  late  1920s.  This  is  one  of  those 
conjunctions,  however,  which  the  history  of  the  twentieth 
century  remaindered  before  it  had  chance  to  be  born.  As  it  is, 
Trotskii's  somewhat  rotund  categories  failed  to  mesh  fully  with 
the  avant-garde  work  which  came  under  his  review.  This  is  not, 
however,  to  place  his  arguments  in  a  presumed  continuum  of 
suppression,  an  assertion  which  his  status  as  leader  of  the 
political  opposition  to  that  "continuum"  would  contradict. 
Notwithstanding  his  critical  difficulties  with  Futurism,  some 
the  result  of  relative  ignorance,  some  fruitful  and  generative, 
Trotskii's  overall  assessment  is  clear:  "Though  remaining,  in 
some  respects,  a  Bohemian  revolutionary  offshoot  of  the  old 
art,  futurism  contributes  to  a  greater  degree  and  more  directly 
and  actively  than  all  other  tendencies,  in  forming  the  new 

Trotskii's  text,  though  authoritative,  is  not,  however,  the 
only  one  we  have  which  sheds  light  on  the  attitude  of  the 
political  Left  Opposition  to  the  avant-garde.  Nikolai  Gorlov,  a 
prerevolutionary  Old  Bolshevik,  allied  in  the  early  1920s  with 
Trotskii,  wrote  a  reply  to  him,  as  well  as  a  pamphlet  running 
to  sixty  pages  and  entitled  Futurizm  i  revolutsiia  (Futurism  and 
Revolution)^  Both  were  published  in  1924,  the  former  in  Lef.  In 
the  words  of  the  editor  of  a  1975  French  compendium,  Gorlov 's 
pamphlet  "represents  an  exemplary  attempt  (albeit  an  isolated 
one  on  the  part  of  a  politician)"  to  clarify  the  relation  between 
artistic  issues  and  "the  new  economic  and  social  structures  born 
of  the  revolution.'"'4  Gorlov  is  more  perspicacious  than  Trotskii 
about  the  relations  of  existing  art  with  bourgeois  society.  In 
particular,  his  technical  grasp  of  the  avant-garde's  innovations 
exceeds  Trotskii's,  resulting  in  prolonged  textual  analysis  of 
Maiakovskii's  poetry  based  on  the  claim  that  "Futurism  has 
emancipated  the  word."'"  He  goes  on:  "It  is  time  to  understand 
that  form  and  content  are  one,  that  the  new  content  will 
inevitably  be  cramped  in  the  old  form,  and  that  the  old  form 
has  become  for  us  a  barrel  organ  on  which  you  can  play 
nothing  but  'Farewell.'"96  In  Gorlov 's  compelling  image,  the 
left  avant-garde,  Futurism,  constituted  "the  red  army  of 

This  is  not,  of  course,  to  imply  that  political  supporters  of 
the  Left  Opposition  would  necessarily  be  sympathetic  to  left 
art.  There  just  is  not  such  a  symmetry  between  politics  and 
aesthetics,  then  or  now.  Nonetheless,  in  the  two  examples  we 
have  of  discussions  of  avant-garde  art  by  Left  Opposition 
figures  there  is  no  out-and-out  rejection  of  the  avant-garde. 


Rather,  the  converse:  there  are  the  beginnings  of  what  could 
have  been  a  constructive  dialogue  with  it.  It  is  perhaps  not 
irrelevant  that  Trotskii  was  to  form  a  more  explicit  alliance 
with  the  leading  representative  of  another  left  avant-garde  over 
a  decade  later.  Andre  Breton's  trajectory  may  shed  an  oblique 
light  on  what  was  not  possible  for  the  Soviet  avant-garde. 


The  second  of  the  two  concluding  questions  concerns  the 
relationship  of  the  left  avant-garde  to  Stalinism.  Of  all 
questions,  this  is  the  most  insistent  at  the  present  time,  and  is 
likely  to  continue  to  be  so  as  Stalinist  culture  is  opened  up  to 
scrutiny.  The  manner  in  which  conservative  accounts  are 
already  beginning  to  elide  the  differences  between  the  two  has 
been  noted  above.  This  dynamic  in  the  scholarship  of  the 
present  period  sharply  points  up  the  need  for  the  accurate 
historical  positioning  of  the  avant-garde,  not  least  to  recover 
and  sustain  its  examples  for  radical  positions  in  the  present — 
positions  which  are  likely  to  find  themselves  more  rather  than 
less  beleaguered  amid  the  liberal  triumphs  of  any  "new  world 
order"  than  heretofore.  In  a  study  of  Klutsis,  Margarita 
Tupitsyn  has  recently  described  this  issue  as  the  big  "off- 
limits"  question.9*  Likewise,  Bois's  attention  was  inescapably 
drawn  to  it  with  regard  to  Lissitzky,  where  the  question  of 
continuity  between  the  different  phases  of  his  career  becomes 
urgent.  Bois's  answer  was  to  claim  significant  t/wcontinuity: 
"I  therefore  propose  the  following  thesis:  there  is  indeed  a 
schism  between  .  .  .  the  Brechtian'  Lissitzky  and  the  'Stalinist' 
Lissitzky."99  Bois  saw  this  "schism,"  furthermore,  not  as  one 
between  a  formally  pure  avant-garde  and  an  instrumentalist 
view  of  art  but,  importantly,  as  one  "between  two  ways  of 
conceiving  the  relations  between  art  and  ideology."  I  believe 
that  Bois  is  substantially  correct  in  his  suggestive  analysis  of 
the  way  in  which  technical  radicalism  can,  and  was  intended 
to,  function  not  purely  aesthetically  but  as  "a  radical  critique  of 
the  social  order."100  His  essential  point  is  that  Lissitzky  was  at 
first  able  to  sustain  a  radical  suspension  of  alternatives,  to 
destabilize  the  spectator's  spatial  assumptions — as  analogues 
for  social  assumptions — without  replacing  them  with 
readymade  solutions;  but  that,  as  the  dictatorship  grew  in 
power,  it  overwhelmed  this  fragile  possibility  and  inserted  its 
own  new/old  closures  into  the  sphere  of  graphic  and  ideological 
work  alike.  "As  long  as  Lissitzky  kept  intact  the  Utopian  force 
of  his  (political)  desire,"  the  radical  project  was  sustainable;  but 
"as  soon  as  the  circumstances  closed  off  his  Utopian  impulse," 
he  was  faced  with  no  possibilities  other  than  silence  or 

The  foregoing  discussion  of  the  Left  Opposition  may  have 
deepened  understanding  of  the  context  which  helped  the 
avant-garde  to  sustain  the  transformative  force  of  its  political 
desire.  In  similar  vein,  it  may  help  to  know  the  precise  nature 
of  the  "circumstances"  which  finally  "closed  off  this 
impulse — not  least  because  such  knowledge  may  suggest  why, 
for  some  at  least,  service  won  out  over  silence.  This  is  always, 
one  suspects,  going  to  be  puzzling  to  those  of  a  liberal  cast  of 
mind:  how  can  avant-garde  artists  bring  themselves  to  serve  a 
totalitarian  dictatorship?  The  answer  can  only  be  coercion! 
Conversely,  to  conservatives,  that  service  confirms  the  iniquity 
of  those  who  lend  their  support  to  violent  revolution  in  the 
first  place. 

The  preceding  account  can  shed  some  light  on  this 
"inexplicable"  transformation  by  once  again  situating  the  left 
front  in  art  in  terms  of  a  wider  left  in  the  Soviet  political 
process  of  the  1920s.  The  paradox  is  that  the  final  defeat  of  the 
Left  Opposition  at  the  end  of  1927  quickly  seemed  to  be 
reversed  as  the  policies  of  the  left  apparently  rose  phoenixlike 
from  the  ashes  of  opposition  to  become  the  Party  leadership's 

new  official  position.  There  is  insufficient  space  here  to  dwell 
on  this  shift,  but,  in  brief,  what  happened  was  twofold. 
Although  some  Trotskiists  and  in  particular  Trotskii  himself 
remained  opposed  to  the  Stalinist  bureaucracy — and  were  cast 
into  outer  darkness  for  it — others,  and  in  addition  those 
behind  Zinov'ev,  quickly  turned  around  and  sought 
readmission  to  the  fold.  Simultaneously  with  these  political 
shifts,  the  economic  contradictions  of  NEP  finally  came  to  a 
head.  Some  of  the  flavor  of  the  situation  comes  out  in  a 
memorandum  from  Maksim  Litvinov  to  Russian  diplomatic 
representatives  abroad,  dated  February  9,  1928:  "In  the  last  few 
days  the  economic  situation,  contrary  to  earlier  expectations, 
has  deteriorated  sharply.  Serious  breakdowns  in  supply  have 
already  occurred  on  the  food  market  which  will  probably  force 
the  workers'  and  peasants'  government  to  start  rationing  the 
most  important  food  items  within  the  next  few  days  .  .  .  The 
situation  is  to  be  regarded  as  extremely  serious  ...  I  repeat 
once  again  that  the  workers'  and  peasants'  government  is 
seriously  concerned  about  the  future  course  of  events."'02  Crisis 
in  the  countryside  was  matched  by  crisis  in  the  cities.  Major 
food  shortages  forced  people  onto  the  private  market  where 
prices  were  higher,  which  had  the  effect  of  producing  de  facto 
wage  cuts.  Consequently,  strikes  broke  out.  Added  to  this,  old 
machinery  in  the  factories  was  wearing  out  anyway  under  the 
drive  to  increase  production,  with  the  result  that  the  condition 
of  workers  deteriorated.  The  circumstances  of  those  who  were 
unemployed  was  worse.  The  result  was  that  "alcoholism, 
prostitution,  'hooliganism'  and  crime  assumed  frightening 
dimensions,  amounting  to  a  veritable  social  disaster."10'  The 
leadership's  response  was  to  revert  to  the  "extraordinary 
measures"  of  War  Communism,  which  in  this  case  essentially 
amounted  to  a  war  on  the  peasantry  in  the  form  of  the  forced 
extraction  of  food  for  the  cities.  This  process  involved  the 
leadership  around  Stalin  turning  on  its  erstwhile  NEP  ally, 
Bukharin,  who  now  assumed  leadership  of  a  short-lived  Right 
Opposition  dedicated  to  preserving  NEP  and  the  system  of 
supports  for  the  peasant.  This  turn  against  the  right,  and 
against  NEP,  and  the  rapid  resumption  of  a  rhetoric,  if  not  yet 
a  reality,  of  planned  intervention  in  the  economy — which  then 
led  quickly  to  the  adoption  of  the  Five- Year  Plan  proper  and, 
concomitantly,  to  a  renewed  emphasis  on  industry  rather  than 
agriculture,  i.e.,  on  the  worker  rather  than  the  peasant — 
conspired  to  convey  an  impression  to  only  too  willing 
oppositionists  that  the  Party  had  finally  seen  the  light  and 
adopted  the  program  of  the  left. 

This  impression  was  strengthened  by  a  dramatic  increase  in 
propaganda  against  the  new  "right  deviation,"  as  well  as,  once 
again,  the  pronouncement  of  a  new  line  in  the  International. 
This  referred  to  a  "third  period,"  a  period  of  new  class 
antagonisms  following  on  the  period  of  stabilization  to  which 
NEP  had  been  a  response.  The  "third  period"  constituted  a 
lurch  to  ultraleftism,  an  assertion  of  "class  against  class," 
according  to  which,  for  example,  social  democrats  became, 
rather  than  potential  allies  of  Communists  against  capital,  class 
enemies  indistinguishable  from  Fascists  as  upholders  of 
international  capitalism.  The  rhetorical  madhouse  which  the 
international  Communist  movement  became — wherein  that 
movement  was  effectively  reduced  to  a  tool  of  Russian  foreign 
policy — was  accompanied  both  in  the  Soviet  Union  and  abroad 
by  a  renewed  emphasis  on  "proletarianism." 

Many  erstwhile  Left  Oppositionists  now  became  the 
staunchest  defenders  of  the  new  "left"  turn — of  militant 
proletarianism  and,  in  particular,  of  the  Five- Year  Plan.  That 
this  allegedly  left  turn  had  nothing  to  do  with  either  Bolshevik 
internationalism — its  basis,  after  all,  was  the  slogan  of 
"socialism  in  one  country" — or  with  improved  conditions  for 
the  workers,  escaped  notice  in  the  welter  of  propaganda  in  an 


increasingly  centralized  political  system  which  now  lacked  any 
place  for  dissent.  Workers  occupied  center  stage  for 
propaganda.  The  point  was,  they  had  to.  They  were  the  ones 
who  were  making  the  sacrifices  to  build  up  the  new  autarkic 
economy:  heroes  of  propaganda  on  the  one  (mythical)  hand, 
victims  of  "primitive  socialist  accumulation"  on  the  other  (all 
too  real)  one.  Contrary  to  appearances  at  the  time,  what  was 
happening  was  far  from  an  implementation  of  the  left's  policies 
in  favor  of  a  working-class-based  socialist  democracy;  it  was  the 
final  defeat  of  such  a  vision.  Carr  in  his  definitive  history  of  the 
process  speaks  of  a  "counterrevolution."  Deutscher  calls  it 
Stalin's  "second  revolution."  Reiman  refers  to  "a  complex  break 
with  the  meaning  and  essence  of  the  social  doctrine  of 
socialism."104  Alex  Callinicos  sums  up  the  situation:  "'Socialist' 
industrialization  in  the  USSR  was  made  possible  not  simply  by 
the  destruction  of  the  peasantry  but  by  the  intense  exploitation 
of  the  very  class  which  in  theory  ruled  the  country  and  was 
supposed  to  be  the  main  beneficiary  of  the  changes  involved."'" 
Even  Trotskii  was  not  completely  clear  about  what  was  going 
on.  For  most  people,  the  wave  of  propaganda  about  the  "third 
period,"  the  left  turn,  and  the  great  leap  to  build  up  a  workers' 
state  before  it  was  crushed  by  the  imperialists  carried  all  before 
it.  As  Stalin  put  it  in  1931:  "The  pace  must  not  be  slackened. 
We  are  fifty  or  a  hundred  years  behind  the  advanced  countries. 
We  must  close  this  gap  in  ten  years.  Either  we  shall  do  it,  or 
they  will  crush  us."'°6  If  the  left  front  of  the  arts  was  indeed 
influenced  by  the  fortunes  of  the  Left  Opposition,  it  would  not 
be  entirely  surprising  to  find  committed  avant-gardists 
throwing  their  technical  expertise  behind  the  institution  of  the 
Five- Year  Plan. 

One  of  the  points  which  needs  to  be  borne  in  mind  here  is 
the  class  position  of  artists  and  designers,  not  to  mention 
theorists.  They  were  not  proletarians.  They  would  not  have 
experienced  the  sharp  end  of  the  exploitation  mounting  in  the 
factories  and  mines.  Quite  the  contrary:  the  misery  in  the 
countryside  and  the  superintensification  of  productivity  in 
industry  would  all  have  been  mediated  through  the  terms  of 
the  very  propaganda  campaign  whose  articulation  was  the  site 
of  the  contribution  of  the  designers.  The  chance  to  participate 
in  the  great  leap  revolved  around  belief  in  the  official  image 
(unless  one  wants  to  postulate  mendacity  of  a  degree  which 
seems  highly  unlikely).  A  hint  of  the  pressures  and 
adjustments  involved  comes  through  in  a  comment  by  Lacis  to 
Benjamin  shortly  before  he  left  the  Soviet  Union  in  January 
1927.  She  claims  he  does  not  understand  what  is  going  on,  and 
tells  him  how,  shortly  after  her  own  arrival  in  Russia,  she  had 
wanted  to  return  to  Europe,  "because  everything  seemed 
finished  in  Russia  and  the  opposition  was  absolutely  correct." 
What  Lacis  is  at  pains  to  impress  upon  Benjamin,  however,  is 
that  she  had  been  wrong.  Now  she  understands  that  things  are 
changing.  What  is  happening  is  "the  conversion  of 
revolutionary  effort  into  technological  effort."  Now, 
"revolutionary  work  does  not  signify  conflict  or  civil  war  but 
rather  electrification,  canal  construction,  creation  of 
factories."'07  The  ideology  of  "socialism  in  one  country"  and  the 
way  it  was  presented,  as  if  a  corner  had  been  turned  so  that 
practical  work  on  the  new  society  could  begin,  seeped  into  the 
perspectives  even  of  those  who  had  originally  been  hostile  to 
the  turn  events  were  taking.  This  is  not  to  say  that  material 
circumstances  did  not  count  for  something.  At  the  very  time 
during  the  First  Five-Year  Plan  when  industrial  wages  were 
falling  by  fifty  percent,  Stalin  incorporated  into  his  program 
systematic  differentials  in  favor  of  managers  and  specialists.  It 
is  not  unknown,  after  all,  even  in  our  own  impeccable 
institutions  of  higher  enlightenment,  for  hearts  and  minds  to 
follow  wage  packets. 

One  of  the  key  social  roles  in  any  system  is  that  of 

technician-specialist.  The  notion  in  a  workers'  democracy  is 
that  these  individuals  are  controlled  by  the  mass  of  workers 
through  the  organs  of  that  industrial  democracy.  In  a  capitalist 
system,  as,  indeed,  in  the  bureaucratic  system  operating  by 
that  time  in  the  Soviet  Union,  their  functions  are,  however, 
managerial.  With  the  so-called  Shakhty  trial  in  1928,  which  set 
the  pace  for  the  show  trials  of  the  thirties,  a  scare  was 
unleashed  against  foreign  specialists  as  "saboteurs." 
Concomitantly,  the  need  for  new  "Soviet  specialists"  was 
proclaimed.  It  is  probably  in  this  context  that  it  becomes 
possible  to  understand  Rodchenko's  enthusiasm  for  transferring 
jurisdiction  of  Vkhutein  from  Narkompros — which  was  now 
seen  as  hopelessly  generalist  and  tainted  with  Anatolii 
Lunacharskii's  old-fashioned  liberalism — to  Vesenkha,  the 
Council  of  the  National  Economy  and  prime  mover  in  the  call 
for  new  Soviet  experts.  This  is  an  instance  of  the  way  in  which 
the  situation  in  the  late  twenties,  after  all  the  difficulties 
experienced  by  the  left  under  NEP,  seemed  to  offer  a  new  lease 
on  life  to  the  erstwhile  avant-garde  project  of  the  "artist- 
constructor."  When  the  first  groups  of  Rodchenko's  students 
graduated  from  Dermetfak  (the  combined  Woodworking  and 
Metalworking  faculties)  in  1928  and  1929,  this  was  the  context 
into  which  they  fitted.  Commentary  on  the  event  in  the 
Constructivist-influenced  architectural  press  enthused  that 
"Until  today  our  industry  has  had  no  specific  core  of  specialists 
working  on  the  rational  construction  of  articles  used  in 
everyday  life  .  .  .  Vkhutein  has  now  begun  to  turn  out 
specialists  of  this  type."108 

Given  this  kind  of  productive  locale,  it  is  unlikely  that 
figures  such  as  Rodchenko  and  Lissitzky  saw  through  to  the 
problems  of  the  working  class  at  the  base  of  the  system.  Or,  to 
the  extent  that  they  did,  it  is,  conversely,  very  likely  that  they 
believed  themselves  to  be  involved  in  the  amelioration  of  the 
workers'  condition  rather  than  the  bolstering  of  the  very 
system  which  oppressed  them.  Thus  Lissitzky  in  his  1930  An 
Architecture  for  World  Revolution  explicitly  accords  to  the 
architect  the  role  of  leading  emancipatory  force  for  the  "new 
life,"  given  the  fact  that,  left  to  their  own  devices,  the 
"masses  .  .  .  tend  to  be  shortsighted  as  far  as  their  own  growth 
is  concerned."'09  Without  this  idealization,  both  of  the  role  of 
the  architect/designer/engineer  and  of  the  nature  of  the  society 
that  was  actually  being  built  out  of  the  crash  industrialization 
and  forced  collectivization  of  the  First  Five-Year  Plan,  how 
could  Lissitzky  have  written  that  "in  our  country  the  factory 
has  ceased  to  exist  as  a  place  of  exploitation  and  as  a  hated 
institution,"  and  continue  that,  under  the  Five-Year  Plan,  "the 
factory  has  become  the  real  place  of  education:  the  university 
for  new  socialist  man'?"°  The  myth  by  which  they  were 
completely  carried  away  could  not  have  been  further  from  the 
truth.  Quite  the  reverse  of  crucibles  of  socialist  education,  the 
factories  were  increasingly  places  of  exploitation  of  the  working 
class.  No  less  a  figure  than  Lazar1  Kaganovich,  one  of  Stalin's 
closest  collaborators  on  the  Central  Committee,  argued, 
somewhat  at  variance  with  Lissitzky's  claim,  that  "the  earth 
should  tremble  when  the  director  walks  round  the  plant."" 

It  is  extremely  difficult  to  think  oneself  into  a  situation  of 
such  contradictions,  not  that  the  system  inhabited  by  Western 
academics  today  is  free  of  its  own.  Klutsis,  a  Latvian  as  well  as 
an  Old  Bolshevik — a  potentially  fatal  combination  in  Stalin's 
Russia — became  one  of  the  most  powerful  graphic  voices  of  the 
Five-Year  Plans  and  an  honored  designer  involved  in  work  for 
international  exhibitions.  None  of  this  prevented  him  from 
being  arrested  in  1938  and  shot  in  a  prison  camp  amid  a  purge 
directed  not  only  against  national  minorities  but,  tellingly, 
against  remnants  of  the  Left  Opposition  (some  of  whom,  with 
unlikely  heroism,  had  continued  to  organize  in  the  Gulag). 
Lissitzky  survived.  So  did  Rodchenko,  who  in  1930 


documented  the  building  of  the  White  Sea  Canal  in 
characteristically  dramatic,  formally  dynamic,  photographs. 
The  White  Sea  Canal  has  since  been  revealed  as  effectively  a 
mobile  forced-labor  camp  in  which  tens  if  not  hundreds  of 
thousands  died.  At  the  time,  along  with  Magnitogorsk  and 
Dneprostroi,  it  was  one  of  the  prestige  construction  projects. 
The  myth  was  that  previously  antisocial  elements  underwent 
voluntary  socialist  reeducation,  working  to  the  music  of  their 
own  orchestras  and  supervised  only  by  a  few  benign  Interior 
Ministry  police.  Western  enthusiasts  such  as  Louis  Aragon 
were  completely  bowled  over  by  the  project,  and  in  Aragon's 
case  it  was  instrumental  in  confirming  his  break  with 
Surrealism  and  Trotskiism  and  accession  to  an  orthodox 
Communist  position  which  he  sustained  for  the  rest  of  his  life. 
What  did  Rodchenko  see?  What  could  he  have  done  about  it, 
anyway?  It  was  not  easy  even  to  stop  working  in  Stalin's  Russia 
without  drawing  attention  to  oneself.  And  again,  there  is  the 
question  of  belief. 

This  takes  us  a  long  way  from  the  question  of  the  artistic 
left  front's  relation  to  a  political  Left  Opposition,  and  the 
distance  doubtless  increases  as  the  1930s  go  on.  Yet  such  a 
range  of  possibilities,  posed  most  starkly  by  the  alternatives  of 
a  retreat  into  silence  or  an  embrace  of  the  official  line,  did 
confront  the  avant-garde  at  the  end  of  the  1920s.  Even  the 
choice  of  "silence"  was  a  relative  one  and  depended,  in  part,  on 
the  resources  an  artist  or  designer  needed  in  order  to  carry  on 
practicing.  Thus  disfavor  as  experienced  by  the  architect  Ivan 
Leonidov  did  lead  to  silence.  In  Tatlin's  case,  his  eccentricity 
may  be  thought  to  have  increased  with  the  Letatlin  project 
(1929-32).  Thereafter,  he  withdrew  into  work  for  the  theater 
and  a  private — and  apparently  occasional — return  to  painting. 
Klutsis  and  Lissitzky,  on  the  contrary,  seem  to  have  gone  about 
the  propaganda  task  with  some  enthusiasm.  Rodchenko 's  work 
appears  to  have  split  into  "official"  graphic  design,  on  the  one 
hand,  and  his  private,  melancholy  circus  paintings,  on  the 
other.  This  resumption  of  the  two  wings  of  bourgeois  "fine" 
and  "applied"  art  stands  as  fair  testimony  to  the  failure  of  the 
project  of  the  synthesizer,  the  artist-constructor,  building  the 
new  society  from  a  wholly  original  and  specific  practical 
position.""  The  most  catastrophic  and  implacable  recognition  of 
that  failure  was  Maiakovskii's.  Just  days  before  his  suicide  in 
1930,  he  used  the  metonym  of  a  candy  wrapper  to  show  how 
everything  had  gone  wrong.  Futurists  had  fought  against 
Classicism,  against  the  cultural  values  of  bourgeois  society.  In 
this  spirit,  Maiakovskii  himself  and  Rodchenko  had  worked  for 
Mossel'prom  and  other  state  enterprises  in  an  attempt  to  make 
new  values  fundamental  to  the  daily  life  of  the  socialist  society. 
Yet  even  in  1924,  that  daily  life  was  unregenerated,  sustained 
by  the  conditions  of  an  economic  policy  which  was  allowing, 
even  inviting,  the  old  back  in.  The  revival  of  the  opposition  in 
1926-27  gave  a  glimmer  of  hope — sufficient,  at  least,  to  restart 
Lef.  The  apparent  belated  recognition  of  the  left's  policies  by 
the  leadership,  and  the  formulation  of  the  Five-Year  Plans, 
carried  many  along  with  it.  This  conjunction  stimulated  the 
formation  of  the  October  group.  Maiakovskii  even  tried  once 
again  to  draw  closer  to  proletarianism  by  seeking  membership 
in  RAPP  (the  Russian  Association  of  Proletarian  Writers),  this 
time  to  little  avail.  By  1930,  Maiakovskii  saw  that  all  had  been 
a  mirage.  What  had  happened  was  not  the  belated  resumption 
of  the  values  of  the  left  but  the  final  emplacement  of  a  social 
formation  which  would  bury  the  left  and  its  revolution  for 
generations.  At  this  moment,  in  a  meeting,  as  a  gesture  of 
friendship,  a  woman  gave  Maiakovskii  a  candy,  with  a 
Mossel'prom  label  on  one  side  and  a  picture  of  the  Venus  de 
Milo  on  the  other. 

The  ridiculous  little  item  was  like  a  condenser  for 
everything  that  had  gone  wrong:  the  "twenty  years  of  work,"  as 

well  as  the  October  Revolution,  which  had  given  that  work 
practical  focus,  taken  it  out  of  the  realm  of  the  avant-garde 
cenacle,  and  appeared  to  offer  it  a  world  to  work  with. 
Maiakovskii's  recognition  was  bleak:  "So,  the  thing  you've  been 
fighting  against  for  twenty  years  has  now  won.""'  His 
conclusion  had  a  remorseless  logic,  matched  perhaps  only  by 
Benjamin's  later  strictures  about  the  need  for  the  radical 
Communist  intellectual  to  "denature"  his  work  if  necessary,  to 
render  it  useless  to  all  rather  than  usable  by  the  enemy."4 
Maiakovskii  was,  in  fact,  used  by  his  enemy  when  canonized  as 
poet  of  the  Revolution  by  Stalin  in  the  mid-i930s  in  a 
grotesque  about-face.  Even  Boris  Pasternak,  no  friend  of  the 
Revolution,  commented  that  this  was  Maiakovskii's  second 
death,  one  for  which  he  was  not  responsible.  Not  everyone  was 
possessed  of  Maiakovskii's  insight.  The  ideological  power  of 
the  dictatorship  was  colossal.  And  the  Five-Year  Plans  were, 
seemingly,  successful:  the  Soviet  Union  built  while  the 
capitalist  world  largely  stagnated.  Designers  had  an  important 
place,  and  were  presumably  gratified  to  serve  what  Lissitzky  in 
1930  still  saw  as  the  development  of  "a  Socialistic  society."",  No 
one  who  has  not  taken  up  an  oppositional  position  against  the 
weight  of  a  society's  dominant  readings  should  feel  legitimated 
to  criticize  Rodchenko,  Lissitzky,  Klutsis,  and  others  who 
designed  for  Stalin  in  the  1930s,  particularly  after  Fascism 
became  the  main  enemy.  It  was,  though,  a  long  way  from 
October:  closer,  one  might  say,  to  the  Berlin  Wall  than  to 
Tatlin's  Tower,  both  monuments  in  their  own  ways  to 
Communism  and  what  became  of  it.  Now  that  the  Wall  has 
come  down,  international  socialism  may  mean  something 
again.  Whether  it  does  so  or  not  is  an  open,  yet  concrete 
question:  "open"  as  the  Tower,  "concrete"  as  the  Wall;  and  as 
real  as  the  relation  of  art  and  politics. 



I  would  like  to  thank  Steve  Edwards  for  encouraging  me  to 
complete  this  essay,  and  my  editor  Jane  Bobko  for  her 
invaluable  contribution  to  improving  the  manuscript. 

Lenin's  remark  in  the  epigraph  was  made  in  Zurich  during  the 
First  World  War  in  conversation  with  a  young  Romanian 
Dadaist,  Marcu.  Quoted  in  Robert  Motherwell,  ed.,  TheDada 
Painters  and  Poets  (New  York:  Wittenborn  Schultz,  1951), 
p.  xviii. 

1.  John  Bowlt,  "The  Old  New  Wave,"  New  York  Review  of  Books, 
February  16,  1984,  p.  28. 

2.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  letter  to  Nikolai  Chuzhak,  January 
23,  1923,  quoted  in  Wiktor  Woroszylski,  The  Life  of 
Mayakovsky,  trans.  Boleslaw  Taborski  (London:  Gollancz,  1972), 
p.  315.  Woroszylski's  "biography"  consists  of  a  collage  of 
quotations  from  the  writings  of  Maiakovskii  and  his 

3.  Andrei  Nakov,  "Stylistic  Changes — Painting  Without  a 
Referent,"  trans.  Susan  Spund,  in  David  Elliott,  ed.,  Alexander 
Rodchenko,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the  Museum 
of  Modern  Art,  Oxford  (Oxford:  Museum  of  Modern  Art, 
1979),  PP-  56-57- 

4.  Vassily  Rakitin,  "The  Avant-Garde  and  the  Art  of  the 
Stalinist  Era,"  in  Hans  Gunther,  ed.,  The  Culture  of  the  Stalin 
Period (London:  Macmillan,  1990),  p.  185. 

5.  El  Lissitzky,  "Proun  Space,"  in  An  Architecture  for  World 
Revolution,  trans.  Eric  Dluhosch  (London:  Lund  Humphries, 
1970),  p.  138. 

6.  El  Lissitzky,  "Basic  Premises,"  in  Architecture  for  World 
Revolution,  p.  27. 

7.  Sophie  Lissitzky-Kiippers,  El  Lissitzky:  Life,  Letters,  Texts, 
trans.  Helene  Aldwinckle  and  Mary  Whittall  (London:  Thames 
and  Hudson,  1968),  p.  58. 

8.  Rakitin,  "Avant-Garde  and  Art,"  p.  186. 

9.  Yve-Alain  Bois,  "El  Lissitzky:  Radical  Reversibility,"  Art  in 
America,  April  1988,  pp.  161-81. 

10.  Christina  Lodder,  Russian  Constructivism  (London  and  New 
Haven:  Yale  University  Press,  1983),  p.  2. 

11.  Ibid.,  p.  140. 

12.  Ibid.,  p.  145. 

13.  Benjamin  H.  D.  Buchloh,  "From  Faktura  to  Factography," 
October  30  (Fall  1984),  pp.  82-119. 

14.  Francis  Fukuyama,  "The  End  of  History?"  The  National 
Interest  16  (Summer  1989),  pp.  3-18. 

15.  See  Boris  Groys,  "The  Birth  of  Socialist  Realism  from  the 
Spirit  of  the  Russian  Avant-Garde,"  in  Culture  of  the  Stalin 
Period,  pp.  122-47,  an<J  Igor  Golomstock,  Totalitarian  Art: 

In  the  Soviet  Union,  the  Third  Reich,  Fascist  Italy  and  the  People's 
Republic  of  China,  trans.  Robert  Chandler  (London:  Collins 
Harvill,  1990).  All  quotations  that  follow  are  from  these  two 
works.  On  Golomstock,  see  also  Paul  Wood,  "The  Retreat  from 
Moscow,"  Artscribe  88  (September  1991),  pp.  48-53. 

16.  Bois,  "El  Lissitzky,"  p.  175. 

17.  Lenin,  in  July  1918,  quoted  in  Duncan  Hallas,  The  Comintern 
(London:  Bookmarks,  1985),  p.  7. 

18.  E.  H.  Carr,  Foundations  of  a  Planned  Economy,  1926- 1929, 
vol.  3,  pt.  3  (London:  Macmillan,  1978),  p.  1018. 

19.  Victor  Serge,  quoted  in  Peter  Sedgewick,  introduction  to 
Memoirs  of  a  Revolutionary,  1901-1941,  by  Victor  Serge  (Oxford: 
Oxford  University  Press,  1967),  pp.  xv— xvi.  The  passage  is 
quoted  again  in  Alex  Callinicos,  The  Revenge  of  History 
(Cambridge:  Polity,  1991),  p.  25.  The  opening  chapters  of  this 
book  contain  further  arguments  for  the  discontinuity  of 
Bolshevik  Marxism  and  Stalinism. 

20.  A  partial  exception  here  is  the  work  of  Sheila  Fitzpatrick: 
The  Commissariat  of  Enlightenment  (Cambridge:  Cambridge 
University  Press,  1970);  Education  and  Social  Mobility  in  the 
Soviet  Union,  1921-1934  (Cambridge:  Cambridge  University 
Press,  1979);  and  Fitzpatrick,  ed.,  Cultural  Revolution  in  Russia, 
1928-1931  (Bloomington,  Ind.:  Indiana  University  Press,  1978). 

21.  Isaac  Deutscher,  The  Prophet  Unarmed:  Trotsky,  1921—1929 
(Oxford:  Oxford  University  Press,  1959),  p.  93. 

22.  E.  H.  Carr,  The  Russian  Revolution  from  Lenin  to  Stalin, 
1917-1929  (London:  Macmillan,  1979),  p.  34. 

23.  On  this  shift,  see  Paul  Wood,  "Art  and  Politics  in  a 
Workers  State,"  Art  History  8,  no.  1  (March  1985),  pp.  105-24. 

24.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 
pp.  185-86. 

25.  In  this  connection,  a  word  of  caution  is  in  order  for  those 
who  leap  to  condemn  Osip  Brik  for  his  probable  involvement 
at  this  time  with  the  Cheka.  Whatever  the  state  security  organs 
later  became,  it  was  at  that  time  a  privilege  to  defend  the 
Revolution  against  its  enemies  on  a  "front"  which  paralleled 
the  actual  fighting  front  of  the  Red  Army.  Feliks  Dzerzhinskii 
himself  is  described  by  Deutscher  {Prophet  Unarmed,  p.  85)  as 
"incorruptible,  selfless  and  intrepid,"  a  complex  figure  who 
existed  in  permanent  tension  between  the  sordid  demands  of 
the  Extraordinary  Commission  for  the  Struggle  against  a 
Counterrevolution  and  a  "lofty  idealism,"  which  made  him  in 
his  comrades'  eyes  a  Savonarola  of  the  Revolution.  A  similar 
austerity  seems  to  have  characterized  Brik. 

26.  Michael  Reiman,  The  Birth  of  Stalinism:  The  U.S.S.R.  on  the 
Eve  of  the  "Second  Revolution,"  trans.  George  Saunders  (London: 
I.  B.  Tauris,  1987). 

27.  Kino-Eye:  The  Writings  ofDziga  Vertov,  ed.  Annette 
Michelson,  trans.  Kevin  O'Brien  (London:  Pluto,  1984),  p.  73. 

28.  Walter  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  ed.  Gary  Smith,  trans. 
Richard  Sieburth,  October  35  (Winter  1985),  p.  44. 

29.  David  Elliott,  introduction  to  Elliott,  Alexander  Rodchenko, 
p.  6. 

30.  Varvara  Stepanova,  "Photomontage,"  in  Elliott,  Alexander 
Rodchenko,  p.  93. 

31.  Osip  Brik,  "Into  Production,"  in  Elliott,  Alexander 
Rodchenko,  pp.  90—91,  130-31.  See  also  Osip  Brik,  "Mayakovsky 
and  the  Literary  Movements  of  1917-1930,"  in  "Osip  Brik: 
Selected  Writings  Presented  by  Maria  Enzensberger,"  Screen  15, 
no.  3  (Autumn  1974),  pp.  35-118.  See  especially  p.  69.  I  also 
discuss  this  point  in  my  "Art  and  Politics  in  a  Workers  State." 
See  especially  pp.  114— 15. 

32.  Kino-Eye,  p.  13. 

33.  Ibid.,  p.  32. 

34.  Viktor  Shklovskii,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 
p.  312. 

35.  Victor  Serge,  From  Lenin  to  Stalin,  trans.  Ralph  Manheim 
(New  York:  Monad  Press,  1973),  pp.  39—40. 


}6.  George  Orwell,  Homage  to  Catalonia  (London:  Penguin, 
1977).  P-  9- 

37.  K.  Miklashevskii,  "Hypertrophy  in  Art,"  quoted  in  Larissa 
Zhadova,  ed.,  Tatlin,  trans.  Paul  Filotas  et  al.  (London:  Thames 
and  Hudson,  1988),  p.  137  n.  35. 

38.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 
p.  415. 

39.  Serge,  From  Lenin  to  Stalin,  pp.  57-58. 

40.  S.  O.  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko:  The  Complete  Work, 
ed.  Vieri  Quilici,  trans.  Huw  Evans  (London:  Thames  and 
Hudson,  1986),  p.  99. 

41.  Osip  Brik,  quoted  ibid.,  p.  171. 

42.  Vladimir  Tatlin,  quoted  in  Zhadova,  Tatlin,  p.  143. 

43.  Vladimir  Tatlin,  quoted  ibid.,  p.  268. 

44.  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  p.  11. 

45.  Serge,  From  Lenin  to  Stalin,  p.  40. 

46.  Nikolai  Aseev,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky.  p.  299. 

47.  Alexei  Gan,  "On  the  programme  and  work  plan  of  the 
group  of  Constructivists,"  quoted  in  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  p.  92  n.  14. 

48.  Vladimir  Tatlin,  quoted  in  Zhadova,  Tatlin,  p.  252. 

49.  S.  Tretyakov,  "We  Raise  the  Alarm,"  in  "Documents  from 
Novy  Lef."  ed.  and  trans.  Ben  Brewster,  Screen  12,  no.  4  (Winter 
1971-72),  pp.  6off. 

50.  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko.  p.  146. 

51.  See  Paul  Wood,  "Realisms  and  Realities,"  in  Modern  Art: 
Practices  and  Debates,  book  3,  forthcoming. 

52.  Deutscher,  Prophet  Unarmed,  p.  41. 

53.  Lev  Trotskii,  speech  to  the  Twelfth  Party  Congress, 
April  20,  1923,  quoted  ibid.,  p.  100. 

54.  Leon  Trotsky,  "Toward  Capitalism  or  Socialism?"  in 
The  Challenge  of  the  Left  Opposition,  ed.  Naomi  Allen,  vol.  I 
(New  York:  Pathfinder  Press,  1975),  p.  322. 

55.  Tatlin's  old  rival,  Malevich  (at  this  time  director  of 
Ginkhuk),  added  his  voice  to  the  criticism  of  Tatlin's  way  of 
running  his  department. 

56.  Vladimir  Tatlin,  "Report  of  the  Section  for  Material 
Culture's  Work  for  1923— 1924"  and  "Report  of  the  Section  for 
Material  Culture's  Research  Work  for  1924,"  in  Zhadova, 
Tatlin,  pp.  254—57. 

57.  Editorial  in  Sovremennaia  arkhitektura  5—6  (1926),  quoted  in 
Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  p.  207. 

58.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  statement  in  discussion  on  Futurism 
with  Proletkul't,  1923,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 

p.  317. 

59.  Deutscher,  Prophet  Unarmed,  p.  100. 

60.  Naomi  Allen,  introduction  to  Challenge  of  the  Left 
Opposition,  vol.  1,  p.  35. 

61.  Fitzpatrick,  Education  and  Social  Mobility,  p.  3. 

62.  Ibid.,  p.  95. 

63.  Ibid.,  p.  96. 

64.  Ibid.,  p.  100. 

65.  Leon  Trotsky,  The  Lessons  of  October,  in  Challenge  of  the  Left 
Opposition,  vol.  1,  pp.  199-200. 

66.  Lenin,  quoted  in  Irving  Howe,  Trotsky  (London:  Fontana, 
1978),  p.  79. 

67.  Allen,  introduction  to  Challenge  of  the  Left  Opposition,  vol.  1, 
p.  29. 

68.  Reiman,  Birth  of  Stalinism,  p.  19. 

69.  Fitzpatrick,  Education  and  Social  Mobility,  p.  103. 

70.  Reiman,  Birth  of  Stalinism,  pp.  23-24. 

71.  The  Platform  of  the  Opposition,  in  Leon  Trotsky,  The  Challenge 
of  the  Left  Opposition,  ed.  Naomi  Allen  and  George  Saunders, 
vol.  2  (New  York:  Pathfinder  Press,  1980),  pp.  302-3. 

72.  Reiman,  Birth  of  Stalinism,  p.  32. 

73.  Ibid.,  p.  35. 

74.  Osip  Brik,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky,  pp.  311-12. 

75.  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  p.  53. 

76.  Ibid.,  p.  72. 

77.  Ibid.,  p.  112. 

78.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 
p.  415. 

79.  Kino-Eye,  p.  48. 

80.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  quoted  in  Woroszylski,  Mayakovsky, 
p.  415. 

81.  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  p.  15. 

82.  "Declaration  of  the  Constructivists,"  in  "Documents  from 
Lef,"  ed.  and  trans.  Richard  Sherwood,  Screen  12,  no.  4  (Winter 
1971-72),  pp.  25-58. 

83.  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  p.  60. 

84.  This  aspect  is  discussed  further  in  Wood,  "Art  and  Politics 
in  a  Workers  State." 

85.  This  is  an  area  fraught  with  difficulty.  Annette  Michelson, 
in  her  introduction  to  Kino-Eye,  cites  Karl  Radek's  1931 
criticism  of  Vertov's  Entuziazrn  {Symphony  of  the  Donbass).  Radek 
had  been  an  oppositionist  who,  since  1928,  had  thrown  in  his 
lot  with  the  Stalinist  bureaucracy.  For  Michelson,  this 
conservative  political  turn,  which  constitutes  "the  place  and 
position  from  which  he  was  speaking,"  makes  it  "hardly  an 
accident"  that  Radek  was  driven  to  dismiss  Vertov's  work 
(Kino-Eye.  p.  lviii).  The  case  of  Bukharin  is  interesting  and 
arguably  more  complex.  He  is  generally  acknowledged  to  have 
been,  along  with  Trotskii  and  Lunacharskii,  one  of  the  main 
Bolshevik  figures  who  evinced  an  interest  in  and  a 
sophisticated  understanding  of  artistic  developments.  Yet 
Bukharin  became  an  ally  of  Stalin's  in  promoting  NEP  from  its 
outset;  in  the  later  1920s,  after  the  defeat  of  Trotskii,  he  was 
the  figurehead  of  the  Right  Opposition  on  whom  Stalin  next 
turned.  Initially,  however,  before  the  emergence  of  the  splits 
under  NEP,  Bukharin  had  indeed  been  perceived  as  a  leader  of 
the  left  of  the  Party.  There  would  be  far-reaching  implications 
for  an  argument  that  claimed  that  the  ultimate  failure  of  his 
peasant-oriented  road  to  socialism  found  some  prefiguration  in 
a  split  between  his  aesthetics  and  his  politics.  Whereas  in  the 
case  of  the  Left  Opposition  and  Lef,  although  that  relation  is 
never  fully  articulated  (to  the  detriment,  it  must  be  said,  of  the 
political  project  no  less  than  the  artistic  one),  a  passage 
remained  open:  a  passage  through  which  there  have  moved 
such  tensioned  figures  as  Benjamin  and  Bertolt  Brecht  and 


their  descendants  in  the  postwar  period  who  have  attempted  to 
resist  both  the  complete  sundering  and  the  complete  implosion 
of  art  and  politics. 

86.  Aleksandr  Rodchenko,  quoted  in  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodcbenko.  p.  115. 

87.  El  Lissitzky,  "A.  and  Pangeometry,"  in  Architecture  for  World 
Revolution,  p.  142. 

88. Ibid. 

89.  A  brief  discussion  of  October's  significance  is  offered  in 
Wood,  "Realisms  and  Realities." 

90.  Leon  Trotsky,  Literature  and  Revolution,  trans.  Rose  Strunsky 
(London:  RedWords,  1991). 

91.  Ibid.,  pp.  181-82. 

92.  Ibid.,  p.  50. 

93.  Nicholas  Gorlov,  "On  Futurisms  and  Futurism:  Concerning 
Comrade  Trotsky's  Article"  and  Futurism  and  Revolution,  in  The 
Futurists,  The  Formalists,  and  the  Marxist  Critique,  ed. 
Christopher  Pike,  trans.  Christopher  Pike  and  Joe  Andrew 
(London:  Ink  Links,  1979),  pp.  169-80  and  181-242, 

94.  Gerard  Conio,  preface  to  Section  3  of  Pike,  Futurists,  p.  162. 

95.  Gorlov,  Futurism  and  Revolution,  in  Pike,  Futurists,  p.  211. 

96.  Ibid.,  p.  199. 

97.  Ibid.,  p.  211. 

98.  Margarita  Tupitsyn,  "Gustav  Klutsis:  Between  Art  and 
Politics,"  Art  in  America,  January  1991,  pp.  41-47. 

99.  Bois,  "El  Lissitzky,"  p.  167. 

100.  Ibid.,  p.  168. 

101.  Ibid.,  p.  175. 

102.  M.  M.  Litvinov,  Deputy  People's  Commissar  of  Foreign 
Affairs,  memorandum  to  diplomatic  representatives  of  the 
USSR,  February  9,  1928,  reprinted  in  Reiman,  Birth  of 
Stalinism,  pp.  138-42. 

103.  Reiman,  Birth  of  Stalinism,  p.  55. 

104.  Ibid.,  p.  86. 

105.  Callinicos,  Revenge  of  History,  p.  32. 

106.  Stalin,  quoted  in  Hallas,  The  Comintern,  p.  123. 

107.  Benjamin,  Moscow  Diary,  p.  82. 

108.  Sovremennaia  arkhitektura  3  (1929),  quoted  in  Khan- 
Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  pp.  212-13  n-  4-8- 

109.  El  Lissitzky,  "The  Club  as  a  Social  Force,"  in  Architecture 
for  World  Revolution,  p.  44. 

no.  Ibid.,  p.  57. 

in.  Lazar'  Kaganovich,  quoted  in  Callinicos,  Revenge  of  History, 
P-  35- 

112.  I  have  not  been  able  fully  to  address  the  relations  of 
Malevich's  work  to  the  political  perspective  explored  in  this 
essay.  Although  it  is,  of  course,  distinct  from  Constructivism,  I 
see  no  reason  to  suspect  that  his  work  radically  violates  the 
view  presented  here,  at  least  for  the  greater  part  of  the  period 
investigated.  His  later  work,  however,  does  appear  to  pose 
specific  problems.  The  prevailing  tendency  has  been  to  dismiss 
his  return  to  figuration  as  an  oddity  or  a  capitulation  to  the 
burgeoning  forces  of  Social(ist)  Realism.  Major  exhibitions 

such  as  that  at  the  Stedelijk  Museum  in  1989  have  now  surely 
buried  this  argument.  I  address  the  works  briefly  in  my 
"Realisms  and  Realities";  so,  too,  does  Charles  Harrison  in  his 
"Abstraction,"  in  Modern  Art:  Practices  and  Debates,  book  2, 
forthcoming.  In  political  terms,  a  question  remains:  what  did 
it  mean  that  Malevich  turned  again  to  depictions  of  peasant  life 
at  precisely  the  time  of  the  forced  collectivization  of 
agriculture  and  the  "liquidation  of  the  kulaks  as  a  class,"  as 
Stalinist  rhetoric  chillingly  has  it?  Whatever  the  answer  to  this 
question,  a  recently  published  letter  of  April  8,  1932,  from 
Malevich  to  Vsevolod  Meierkhol'd  makes  clear  that  for  him  the 
return  to  figuration  was  not  a  break  with  the  Revolution  but  a 
way  of  safeguarding  it  and  preventing  the  return  of  Classicism 
and  Naturalism: 

Painting  has  turned  back  from  the  non-objective  way  to  the  object, 
and  the  development  of  painting  has  returned  to  the  figurative  part  of 
the  way  that  had  led  to  the  destruction  of  the  object.  But  on  the  way 
back,  painting  came  across  a  new  object  that  the  proletarian  revolution 
had  brought  to  the  fore  and  which  had  to  be  given  form,  which  means 
that  it  had  to  be  raised  to  the  level  of  a  work  of  art .  .  .  I  am  utterly 
convinced  that  if  you  keep  to  the  way  of  Constructivism,  where  you  are 
now  firmly  stuck,  which  raises  not  one  artistic  issue  except  for  pure 
utilitarianism  and  in  theatre  simple  agitation,  which  may  be  one 
hundred  per  cent  consistent  ideologically  but  is  completely  castrated  as 
regards  artistic  problems,  and  forfeits  half  its  value.  If  you  go  on  as 
you  are  .  .  .  then  Stanislavski  will  emerge  as  the  winner  in  the  theatre 
and  the  old  forms  will  survive.  And  as  to  architecture,  if  the  architects 
do  not  produce  artistic  architecture,  the  Greco-Roman  style  of 
Zyeltovski  will  prevail,  together  with  the  Repin  style  in  painting 
(Kazimir  Malevich,  "Two  Letters  to  Meyerhold, "  Kunst  & 
Museumjournaal  6 {1990}.  pp.  p-10). 

113.  Vladimir  Maiakovskii,  quoted  in  Christopher  Pike, 
introduction  to  Futurists,  p.  19. 

114.  Walter  Benjamin,  letter  to  Gershom  Scholem,  April  17, 
1931,  in  Gershom  Scholem,  Walter  Benjamin:  The  Story  of  a 
Friendship,  trans.  Harry  Zohn  (London:  Faber,  1982),  pp.  231—33. 

115.  El  Lissitzky,  "Housing  Communes,"  in  Architecture  for 
World  Revolution,  p.  42. 


The  Artisan  and  the 
Prophet:  Marginal 
Notes  on  Two  Artistic 

Vasilii  Rakitin 

Which  is  worth  more:  wind  or  stone/ 
They're  both  price/ess. 

— Aleksei  Krnchenykh  and  Velimir  Khlebnikov 

The  epic  literatures  of  many  peoples,  in  both  East  and  West, 
feature  sagas  in  which  two  heroes,  equal  in  prowess,  are  pitted 
against  each  other.  Valiant  warriors  on  both  sides  watch  their 
duel  with  bated  breath  .  .  . 

The  first  of  two  events  that  determined  the  fate  of  art  for  a 
long  time  to  come — and  not  just  in  Russia  but  in  many  other 
countries — took  place  in  Moscow  in  the  spring  of  1914: 

Dear  Sirs, 

On  the  10th,  nth,  12th,  13th,  and  14th  of  May  this  year  the  studio 
of  Vladimir  Tat/in  ( 57  Ostozhenka,  apartment  3)  will  be  open  from  6 
to  8  p.m.  for  a  free  viewing  of  his  synthetic-static  compositions.  In 
addition,  at  seven  o'clock  on  the  aforementioned  days,  the  Futurist 
Sergei  Podgaevskii  will  dynamically  declaim  his  latest  poetic 
transrational  records. ' 

A  hand-lettered  placard  mounted  above  the  entrance  to  the 
apartment  proclaimed:  behold  the  TRICK! 

Podgaevskii  could  not  simply  read  his  verses — he  had  to 
"dynamically  declaim"  them.  And  they  were  not  even  verses, 
either,  but  "poetic  transrational  records."  The  choice  of  words 
is  indicative  of  a  change  of  mood  in  Moscow  artistic  circles,  of 
a  gravitation  toward  the  transrational  and  the  alogical.  Toward 
Dada  in  place  of  Futurism. 

Tatlin  used  metallic  netting  and  smoked  glass  in  one  of  the 
compositions  on  display,  which  people  claimed  was  a  depiction 
of  a  "tearoom  at  night."1  They  were,  however,  hard  pressed  to 
say  what  was  represented  in  the  other  "synthetic-static"  works, 
which  had  been  hung  alongside  Tatlin's  beautiful  and  perfectly 
legible  set  and  costume  designs  lor  Mikhail  Glinka's  opera 
Zhizn'  za  tsaria  (A  Life  for  the  Czar,  1836).  (The  1913-14  Mir 
iskusstva  [World  of  Art}  exhibitions  at  which  these  designs 
had  been  displayed'  coincided  with  celebrations  in  Moscow  and 
St.  Petersburg  of  the  tricentenary  of  the  Romanov  dynasty — 
celebrations  which  were  themselves  operatic  in  their 
grandeur.)4  Observers  today  wish  to  see  a  connection  between 
Tatlin's  Les  (Forest,  1913)  design  for  Glinka's  opera  and  his  first 
reliefs.  But  the  break  between  them  is  obvious.  There  is  no 
smooth  transition.  Tatlin  took  not  a  step  but  a  leap  into  the 

Nonetheless,  Tatlin,  with  childlike  cunning,  continued  to 
try  to  convince  the  public  that  there  was  no  particular 
difference  between  his  new  work  and  old — although  he  did 
fear  he  would  not  be  believed.  In  December  1914,  he  was 
invited  to  contribute  as  a  member  of  World  of  Art  to  the 
Khudozhniki  Moskvy — zhertvam  voiny  {Artists  of  Moscow  for  the 
Victims  of  the  War)  exhibition,  where  again  he  showed  his 
designs  for  A  Life  for  the  Czar.  Yet  two  or  three  hours  prior  to 
the  opening,  he  arrived  with  his  Zhivopisnyi  rel'ef  (Painterly 
Relief.  1914) — a  composition  of  wire,  iron,  cardboard,  and 
enamel  on  board — and  proceeded  to  hang  it  as  if  that  were 
nothing  out  of  the  ordinary.  The  organizers  endeavored  to 
remove  the  relief  from  the  exhibition — such  an  eccentric 
prank,  such  an  aesthetic  curiosity,  did  not  suit  a  flag-waving, 
patriotic  exhibition!  Thanks,  however,  to  the  insistence  of 
several  other  artists — and  because  spectators  had  already  begun 
to  filter  into  the  exhibition  halls — Tatlin's  relief  was  allowed  to 

The  following  year,  Sergei  Shchukin,  one  of  the  most 
significant  collectors  of  the  new  painting,  bought  a  relief  by 
Tatlin  out  of  the  Tramvai  V  (Tramway  V)  exhibition  in 
Petrograd,  paying  what  seemed  to  Russian  artists  a  fantastic 
price — three  thousand  rubles.6  For  that  amount  of  money  one 
could  purchase  fifteen  to  twenty  landscapes  by  the  enterprising 
"father  of  Russian  Futurism,"  David  Burliuk,  or  two  or  three 
splendid  paintings  by  one  of  the  most  popular  and  prominent 


artists  of  the  time,  Kuz'ma  Petrov-Vodkin.  Amazement 
bordered  on  shock.  What  was  the  secret  of  a  few  boards  and 
pieces  of  iron  and  wire,  all  of  which  could  be  found  in  any  barn 
or  garbage  dump? 

In  the  late  autumn  of  1915,  another  artist  in  Moscow, 
Kazimir  Malevich,  was  attempting  to  convince  his  colleagues 
in  Futurist  and  Dada  happenings  to  gather  "under  a  new 
banner.""  He  proposed  that  the  poets  of  yesterday's  Futurism 
"change  the  means  of  battle  with  thought,  content,  and 
logic  .  .  .  advance  Alogism  after  Futurism" — in  essence,  that 
they  learn  from  the  example  of  his  Alogist  paintings.  Malevich 
even  provided  examples  of  his  own  of  the  new  poetic 

Papuans  bored,  but 
Cottage  second-class 
Ticket.  Park.  Arch. 

These  lines  loosely  match  his  painting  Stantsiia  bez  ostanovki. 
Kuntsevo  {Through  Station:  Kuntsevo,  1913,  fig.  no.  2),  while 
another  of  Malevich's  examples  brings  to  mind  his  Korova  i 
skripka  (Cow  and  Violin,  1913),  sometimes  called  Vids  balkona 
(View  from  the  Balcony): 

The  cow  ate  a  palm 
Adam  Goat  Goose.  * 

It  was  evident  that  all  the  innovators  in  painting  were  "no 
longer  Futurists"9  and  that  "Futurism"  had  survived  only  as  a 
general  notion  useful  in  dealing  with  a  public  accustomed  to 
the  labeling  of  everything  new  and  up  to  the  minute  as 
"Futurist."  The  participants  in  the  ft  10  exhibition,  held  in 
Nadezhda  Dobychina's  gallery  in  Petrograd  in  1915-16,  called 
the  show  the  "last  Futurist  exhibition" — the  last  that  the 
artists  striving  to  attain  "zero  form"  wanted.  Yet  the  Magazin 
(The  Store)  exhibition,  organized  by  Tatlin  and  held  in  Moscow 
in  1916,  would  be  called  "Futurist."  And  during  the  Civil  War 
years,  "Futurism"  would  once  again  be  a  synonym  for 
everything  new,  leading  an  exasperated  Lenin  to  cry,  "Can  we 
not  find  any  reliable  anti-Futurists!"10 

The  true  manifesto  of  the  new  movement  in  painting — 
Suprematism — was  neither  the  leaflet  with  a  statement  by 
Malevich  distributed  at  the  0. 10  exhibition"  nor  the  speeches  he 
gave  at  debates  and  lectures  nor  even  his  polemical  treatise  Ot 
kubizma  k  suprematizmu  (From  Cubism  to  Suprematism)^  an 
eccentric  experiment  in  philosophical  prose,  but  Malevich's 
Chernyi  kvadrat  (Black  Square,  1915)  itself,  his  "icon." 

The  icon  is  a  sign  of  the  other  world,  of  sacred  harmony, 
and  a  witness  to  higher  spiritual  values.  But  the  majority  of 
Malevich's  followers,  raised  on  the  Futurists'  irreverent  attacks 
on  the  old  and  obsolete,  did  not  immediately  comprehend  the 
iconic  meaning  of  the  Black  Square.  Malevich's  detractors 
proved  to  be  more  insightful.  They  intuitively  understood  the 
historic  importance  of  Malevich's  gesture — he  hung  the  Black 
Square  at  the  0.10  exhibition  in  the  traditional  place  of  the 
icon — yet,  in  their  holy  terror,  they  confused  the  new  harmony 
and  new  artistic  idealism  with  the  march  of  the  "oncoming 

"We  are  all  primitives  of  the  twentieth  century,"  announced 
Ivan  Kliun.'4  He  used  the  word  "primitive"  in  reference  not  to 
Primitivism,  the  stylistic  tendency  prevalent  in  the  early  1910s, 
but  to  the  beginning  of  a  new  era  in  the  evolution  of  art  and  to 
vanguard  artists  as  bearers  of  a  new  artistic  consciousness, 
powerful  and  whole.  Tatlin's  reliefs  and  Malevich's 
Suprematism  were  the  most  important  stimuli  in  the  self- 

determination  of  other  avant-garde  artists,  who  were  not 
troubled  by  the  divergence  and  even  the  glaring  contradiction 
between  Tatlin's  and  Malevich's  paths.  In  order  to  clarify  their 
own  tasks,  it  was  important  that  artists  define  themselves  in 
relation  to  the  new  concepts.  Formal  innovation  acted  in  and  of 
itself,  provoking  argument,  elucidation,  and  refutation.  It  was, 
that  is,  an  aesthetic  provocation,  a  challenge. 

Thus  Liubov'  Popova  and  Kliun  countered  Tatlin  with  their 
own  variations  on  the  relief,  admixing  Tatlin's  experiments  and 
the  "sculpto-paintings"  of  Aleksandr  Arkhipenko  and,  in 
Popova's  case,  the  work  of  the  Italian  Futurists  Umberto 
Boccioni  and  Ardengo  Soffici,  as  well;  in  Petrograd,  Lev  Brum 
made  reliefs  influenced  by  Tatlin.  What  was  at  stake  here,  of 
course,  was  not  the  affirmation  of  the  spatial  relief  as  a  special 
new  genre — the  reliefs  of  Vladimir  Burliuk,  Kliun,  and  Vasilii 
Ermilov  (who  produced  reliefs  in  Khar'kov  in  the  early  1920s) 
were  based  upon  different  principles.  Rather,  Tatlin's  reliefs 
acted  as  conduits  to  new  spatial  concepts  and  to  a  gradual 
recognition  of  a  new  attitude  toward  art  in  general. 

Many  artists — such  as  Ivan  Puni,  Popova,  Aleksandr 
Rodchenko,  and  Ol'ga  Rozanova  (whose  works  were  frequently 
entitled  Suprematizm  [Suprematism]  in  exhibition  catalogues) — 
experienced  Malevich's  Suprematism  as  if  it  were  an 
inoculation  against  the  disease  of  illusionism  and  Naturalism, 
and  then  quickly  went  beyond  it.  After  the  February 
Revolution  of  1917,  the  artists  of  Supremus — a  group  centered 
around  Malevich  in  Moscow  in  1916— 17,  which  had  planned, 
but  was  never  able,  to  publish  a  journal  of  the  same  name — 
joined  the  so-called  young  or  left  federation  of  the  Moscow 
Professional  Union  of  Artists  and  Painters.  And  by  1920, 
Malevich's  solo  show  at  the  Sixteenth  State  Exhibition  in 
Moscow  was  essentially  the  exhibition  of  a  living  classic. 

No  one  among  Suprematism's  "fellow  travelers"  had  any 
desire,  as  Malevich  wished  they  did,  to  develop  specifically 
Suprematist  principles  further.  The  independence  of  each  artist 
from  the  general  rubric  was  clear  to  all  the  participants,  bar 
none,  in  Suprematist  ventures.  Thus  Varvara  Stepanova 
observed  bluntly  that  "Rozanova's  Suprematism  is  contrary  to 
that  of  Malevich  .  .  .  For  Malevich,  color  exists  solely  to 
distinguish  one  plane  from  another;  for  Rozanova,  the 
composition  serves  to  reveal  all  the  possibilities  of  color  on  a 
plane."  She  took  particular  note  of  the  "minimalism"  of 
Rozanova's  most  recent  work,  where  "one  color  [develops]  into 
a  self-sufficient  painting.""  Even  the  seemingly  orthodox 
Suprematist  Kliun  quickly  changed  tack,  searching  out  his 
own  concepts  of  abstract  form  and  constructing  his 
compositions  on  the  interrelation  of  color  and  light  (on  the 
change  in  color  wrought  by  light  and  contrasts,  and  the 
influence  of  adjacent  colors  on  the  alteration  of  form). 

Tatlin's  reliefs  and  Malevich's  Black  Square  introduced  a  new 
artistic  yardstick.  Competition  with  the  Paris  school,  which 
had  been  the  main  engine  in  the  evolution  of  new  Russian  art 
circa  1910,  lost  its  meaning. 

In  about  1920,  it  would  "suddenly"  become  evident  that 
changes  had  taken  place  or  were  in  the  offing  in  many 
countries — that  the  scale  of  artistic  values  was  shifting. 
Parisian  artists  would  respond  to  the  crisis  with  Purism  and 
the  aesthetics  of  Le  Corbusier,  and  later  with  Surrealism.  For 
the  time  being,  however,  the  signal  events  were  those 
occurring  to  the  east  of  Paris.  In  Moscow  and  Petrograd,  in 
Holland  and  Germany,  and  in  Eastern  Europe,  artists  were  not 
only  promoting  but  in  their  own  way  transforming  new  ideas. 
The  Bauhaus,  with  a  minimum  of  rhetoric,  with  "workmanlike 
efficiency,"  so  to  speak,  for  a  time  resolved  all  real  and 
imagined  conflicts  and  contradictions — between  "free  creative 
work"  and  society's  claim  on  the  artist's  work;  between  logic 
and  rationalism  and  spontaneity  and  intuition;  between 


technology  and  metaphysics — in  its  notion  of  a  "total  art"  in 
active  relation  with  its  surroundings.  In  the  1920s,  the  question 
of  "epoch  and  style"  was  not  merely  theoretical.  And  in  the  art 
of  this  period,  Malevich  and  Tatlin  are  constantly  the  twin 

The  world  as  a  sense,  independent  of  the  image,  of  the  idea — this  is 
the  essence  of  the  content  of  art.  {My}  square  is  not  an  image,  just  as  a 
switch  or  socket  are  not  the  current. 

— Malevich'6 

By  the  time  Tallin's  reliefs  and  Suprematism  appeared,  a 
certain  stage  in  the  evolution  of  the  new  Russian  art  had  come 
full  circle — a  stage  that,  according  to  Malevich,  was  initiated 
by  those  now  seemingly  happy  and  carefree  sensualists,  the 
Impressionists.  Vanguard  Russian  artists  especially  esteemed 
Claude  Monet,  whom  they  perceived — as  they  did  Cezanne 
and  Van  Gogh,  and  later  Picasso — as  "more  Russian  than  the 
Russians."  Those  in  Malevich's  circle  were  always  and 
unreservedly  admirers  of  Fernand  Leger,  while  Tatlin  prized  the 
lyrical  Impressionism  of  Mikhail  Larionov,  which  combined 
virtuosity  with  sincere  feeling. 

Cubism  taught  discipline  of  form  and  fostered  a  taste  for 
analysis.  It  was,  for  Malevich,  the  pivotal — or,  better  yet, 
central — event  in  painting's  evolution  from  Impressionism  to 
Suprematism.  Among  the  slogans  of  Malevich's  students — the 
members  of  Unovis  (the  Affirmers  of  the  New  Art) — in 
Vitebsk  were  the  following: 

If  you  want  to  study  art,  study  Cubism! 

You  want  to  learn  painting?  Begin  with  Cubism! 

If  you  don't  want  to  become  a  fashionable  painter,  begin  by 
studying  Cubism! 

If  you  are  an  artist  and  do  not  work  cubist  ically,  then  begin 
working  this  way  immediately! 

You  want  to  experience  the  beauty  of  the  fourth  dimension?  Begin 
studying  Cubism! 

If  you  want  to  become  a  creator,  study  Cubism! 

Do  you  want  to  reign  over  nature?  Study  Cubism! 

If  you  don't  want  to  be  ruled  by  nature,  begin  studying  Cubism!'7 

In  other  words,  there  was  no  way  to  become  a  contemporary 
artist  without  first  passing  through  Cubism. 

For  Tatlin,  Cubism  was  something  worth  knowing,  yet  he 
evinced  no  desire  to  adopt  it.  Nor,  however,  did  he  feel  any 
need  to  reject  it — he  was,  of  course,  far  from  concurring  with 
Felix  Vallotton's  celebrated  utterance:  "Cezanne?  I  choose,  with 
all  due  respect,  to  ignore  him."  In  the  studio  on  Ostozhenka, 
which  Tatlin  rented  with  the  artist  Nikolai  Rogovin,  he  drew 
nudes  in  the  style  of  Cubism  (whenever  other  artists 
congregated  and  they  were  able  to  hire  a  model).  Many  such 
studies  remain,  in  albums  and  even  on  loose  sheets  of  paper. 

But  no  Cubism  was  allowed  into  his  painting — no 
variations  on  the  paintings  in  Shchukin's  gallery  or  those 
illustrated  in  magazines.  Tatlin's  devices  for  deforming  nature 
(devices  as  important  to  Expressionism  as  to  Cubism),  his 
"distortions,"  had  more  in  common  with  the  violation  of 
perspective  in  icons  (but  not  in  primitive  art)  than  with  the 
canvases  of  the  Parisian  painters.  (It  was  precisely  in  1911— 12 
that  the  "antiquity"  of  the  vanguard  art  of  Tatlin  became 

And  Futurism?  For  Malevich  and  Tatlin,  its  reign  was  a 
time  when  artistic  life  itself  became  a  work  of  art. 

Malevich  entertained  long  and  seriously  both  the  idea  of 
dynamism  and  the  linked  notion  of  art  as  pure  energy.  "I  paint 
energy,  not  the  soul."'8  Energy  and  the  energetics  of  tension  are 
subjects  ever  present  in  his  reflections  on  art — though  he 

fig.  I 

Vladimir  Tatlin 
Counter-Relief,  ca.  ipiti 

fig.  2 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Through  Station:  Kuntsevo,  ipij. 


invests  these  concepts  with  his  own  meaning,  viewing  both 
dynamism  and  energy  from  the  vantage  point  of  absolute  art. 

In  first  describing  his  reliefs  as  "synthetic-static 
compositions,"  Tatlin  emphasized  their  non-Futurist  character. 

Alogism  formed  a  sort  of  neutral  zone  between  the  trends  of 
the  early  1910s  and  non-objective  art  and  Constructivism. 
Tatlin  contented  himself  with  hanging  the  behold  the  trick: 
placard,  while  Malevich  (if  one  isn't  blindly  accepting  the 
suggestions  embedded  in  his  own  writings)  found  himself  at  a 
turning  point.  A  turning  point  to  nowhere,  and  then  to  "his" 
Suprematism,  of  far  greater  importance  than  Cubism.  Irony  for 
a  time  allowed  the  question,  Where  next?  to  remain 
unanswered;  it  permitted  a  second's  breathing  space  in  the 
uninterrupted  pursuit  of  new  forms.  Alogism  offered 
everything — Cubism's  geometric  planes,  Futurism's 
strangeness  and  urban  kitsch  (lettering  from  advertisements 
and  signboards) — immediately  and  simultaneously.  It  was 
harmony  in  disharmony.  Not  synthesis,  not  the  birth  pangs  of  a 
Gesamtkunstwerk  but  a  backed-up  stream  of  artistic  reflexes  and 
utterances  vis-a-vis  contemporary  devices  and  concepts  in  art. 
Today  we  can  trace  an  entirely  logical  path  from  Alogism  to 
the  montage  of  the  1920s. 

In  Malevich's  case  it  was  also  significant  that  the  Alogist 
estrangement  of  meaning  encouraged  scrutiny  of  the  structure 
of  the  painting;  it  revealed  the  "pure  element"  of  form:  the 
surface  plane. 

Of  course,  Malevich,  in  passionately  absorbing  each  ism, 
failed  to  notice  that  he  was  parodying  them.  The  parody 
evolved  from  his  desire  to  do  everything  not  only  better  but 
absolutely  right.  He  was  a  born  systematist;  he  had  to  model 
everything  into  his  own — and,  in  his  opinion,  faultlessly 
exact — world  of  Impressionism,  Cezannism,  and  Cubism.  And 
if  everything  was  to  be  exact  and  complete,  he  had  to  circle 
back  and  to  reexamine  himself  again  and  again.  Hence  it 
seemed  to  him,  after  he  had  completed  his  own  series  of  Cubist 
experiments,  that  no  one  in  Russia  had  yet  created  a  truly 
Cubist  work.  But,  had  he  worked  in  France,  would  he  have 
found  a  Parisian  artist  who  had? 

Malevich's  Alogist  works,  like  things  an  sich,  are  products 
of  the  disengagement  of  form  from  the  objects  of  perception. 
These  works  operate  on  two  levels,  that  of  abstract  planes 
concealing  some  unknown  world  and  that  of  irony  vis-a-vis  the 
subject  that  is  possibly  depicted. 

Suprematism  liberated  these  disengaged  planes  and 
endowed  them  with  new  meaning.  New  form  engendered,  or 
predetermined,  new  meaning. 

This  was  the  winding-up  of  the  old  (although  the  "old"  was 
not  very  long  out  of  its  infancy)  and  the  beginning  of  the  new. 

Tatlin  navigated  among  the  various  isms  in  art  like  an 
icebreaker  threading  a  path  among  floes  that  threaten  to  crush 
it.  His  was  the  most  logical  and  the  most  unforeseen 
solution — to  make  not  life  but  the  materials  existing  in  life 
both  the  subject  of  art  and  art  itself. 

He  saw  no  need  to  repudiate  anything.  The  polemical 
debates  about  art  were  of  no  special  interest  to  Tatlin,  and  not 
because  he  wasn't  one  for  talking — he  was,  in  fact,  a  first-rate 
raconteur — but  because  he  discerned  no  particular  sense  in 
them.  Tatlin  was  a  naturalist,  the  keenest  of  observers,  who  did 
reject  willful  intervention.  He  proceeded  "from  the  bottom 
up,"  not  from  a  general  idea — the  fourth,  fifth,  sixth,  or 
whatever  dimension — but  from  the  life  of  materials.  From  the 
life  of  materials,  and  not  from  materials  as  such. 

Materials  have  properties  such  as  elasticity,  weight,  and 
tension.  Line,  tone,  and  color.  Old  photographs  of  the  reliefs — 
without  the  retouching  that  each  time  cancels  a  little  more  of 
the  complexity  of  their  structure — reveal  a  subtlety  oifaktura 
(density  or  manipulation  of  material)  and  light  and  shade.  The 

attainments  of  painting  have  not  been  lost.  The  refinement  and 
intricacy  of  the  linear-rhythmical  relationships  of  painting  are, 
rather,  preserved.  The  riddle  of  Tatlin's  reliefs,  unsolved  by 
those  in  both  East  and  West  who  have  reconstructed  them,  is 
how  emptiness  became  an  artistic  space,  how  it  acquired  a 
subtle  poetic  meaning. 

Tatlin's  reliefs  embodied  a  new  artistic  methodology:  the 
aesthetics  of  real  materials  in  real  space  (naturally,  both  these 
concepts  change,  and  constantly,  over  time  and  space).  Tatlin's 
conversations  with  young  artists  from  the  Apartment  No.  5 
studio  on  Vasil'evskii  Island  in  Petrograd,  and  with  the  critics 
Sergei  Isakov  and  Nikolai  Punin,  led  to  the  following,  entirely 
logical,  formulae:'9 





Tatlin  (and  Tatlinism) 

power  of  color 
quality  of  color 
composition  of  form 

consistent  composition 

real  space 

And  so,  a  new  sign  and  a  new  reality. 
Two  faces  of  the  age. 

More  accurately,  a  new  life  in  art  for  the  real.  At  the  beginning, 
even  Tatlin,  it  appears,  did  not  fully  grasp  the  significance  of 
what  he  had  discovered.  It  was  no  big  deal.  Every  artist  loves 
his  material.  No  mere  board  but  "a  lovely  little  one,"  Tatlin 
would  say.  What  unusual  discoveries  were  there  here?  What 
art?  Even  in  the  booklet  Vladimir  Evgrafovich  Tatlin,  published 
at  the  height  of  art-world  polemicizing,  we  find  no  theories — 
not  even  their  facsimile — no  manifesto,  no  ripostes.  Only  a 
decidedly  straightforward  biographical  note  and  reproductions 
of  his  works.20  An  account  of  work  produced  between  this  date 
and  that.  Look  for  yourself  and  draw  your  own  conclusions. 
Just  as  El  Lissitzky  said  later  in  his  Suprematicheskii  skaz  pro  dva 
kvadrata  (A  Suprematist  Tale  about  Two  Squares,  1922): 
"Construct  yourselves." 

Vera  Pestel1,  who  dedicated  her  painting  Tatlin  s  banduroi 
{Tatlin  with  Bandura)1'  to  Tatlin,  writes  ingenuously  in  her 
memoirs  about  how  much  she,  Sofia  Karetnikova,  Popova,  and 
Nadezhda  Udal'tsova  liked  Malevich's  bright  and  cheerful 
geometric  paintings.  Pestel1  and  the  others  made  decorative 
sketches  in  the  Suprematist  style  for  the  Verbovka  collective, 
whose  peasant  women  embroidered  scarves,  handbags,  muffs, 
and  carpets  with  these  designs."  And  the  four  artists  even 
decorated  the  club  of  the  left  federation  of  the  Moscow 
Professional  Union  of  Artists  and  Painters  with  Suprematist 

Malevich's  formation  of  the  Supremus  group,  which  good 
friends  of  Tatlin's  and  former  admirers  of  his  art  (Udal'tsova 
and  Pestel1  again)  either  joined  or  associated  with,  was,  of 
course,  a  blow  to  Tatlin's  pride  as  an  artist.  This  despite  the 
fact  that  both  Malevich's  formal  investigations  and  his 
strategems  to  inaugurate  a  movement  were  foreign  to  Tatlin,  as 
if  from  another  planet. 

The  stories  recounted  by  Pestel1,  Valentina  Khodasevich,24 


and  Sofia  Dymshits-Tolstaia,:s  who  knew  Tatlin  well  (but  not 
each  other),  paint  a  picture — full  of  sympathy — of  a  "holy  fool 
of  Futurism,"  a  man  suspicious  to  the  point  of  absurdity,  to  the 
brink  of  phobia.  He  openly  suspected  Malevich  of  artistic 
espionage,  though  it  is  difficult  today  to  detect  the  traces  of 
any  crime.  Tatlin  erected  something  like  a  tent,  but  one  that 
could  be  locked,  in  the  middle  of  his  studio  on  Staro- 
Basmannaia  Street  in  the  Nemetskaia  sloboda  region  of 
Moscow.  God  forbid  Malevich  should  see  what  he  was  up  to 
and  get  ahead  of  him. 

This  is  a  continuation,  as  it  were,  of  the  old  "futurization" 
of  artistic  life.  What  happens  in  art  and  the  stories  told  about 
it  are  artistic  facts  of  identical  interest.  History  immediately 
decks  itself  out  as  myth. 

Tatlin's  "phobia"  was  clearly  provoked  by  Malevich,  who 
derived  satisfaction  from  mystifications  and  practical  jokes. 
Tatlin,  of  course,  also  liked  to  tell  tales.  They  always  contained, 
it's  true,  a  kernel  of  truth,  yet  the  accounts  of  his  journeys  and 
adventures  changed  and  were  embroidered  with  each  retelling. 
Did  he,  pretending  to  be  a  blind  man,  play  his  bandura  at  an 
exhibition  of  Russian  art  and  handicrafts  in  Berlin  in  the 
winter  of  1914?  He  did.  And  did  he  speak  with  and  kiss  the 
hand  of  the  Kaiser's  wife?  Those  who  heard  his  captivating 
tales  did  not  much  care  whether,  in  fact,  he  had.  Had  he  been 
in  Paris?  He  had.  The  sculptor  and  later  art  historian  Boris 
Ternovets,2"  the  sculptor  Vera  Mukhina/"  and  Jacques  Lipchitz28 
all  recalled  Tatlin's  traveling  to  France  after  his  "stint"  playing 
the  bandura  in  Berlin.  In  her  diary,  Popova  recorded  Tatlin's 
story  about  how,  right  before  his  departure  from  Paris  for 
Moscow,  he  visited  "Pavel"  Picasso  himself  (Russians  liked  to 
switch  from  the  Spanish  name  to  its  Slavic  equivalent).29  After 
seeing  Picasso's  Cubist  constructions,  Tatlin  said,  he  began  to 
work  according  to  other  principles. 

fig-  3 

Vera  Pestel' 
Composition,  ipi$—iti 

Malevich's  mystifications  were  of  a  different  variety.  He 
matched  Baron  Munchausen  in  flights  of  fantasy  and 
inspiration.  A  simple  photograph.  The  artist  with  a  Polish 
acquaintance  in  Germany.'0  Two  figures.  On  the  back  is  the 
inscription:  "Le  Corbusier  and  me  in  Dessau."  Malevich  was 
certainly  in  danger  of  being  found  out,  yet  the  very  act  of 
rewriting  the  history  of  contemporary  art  afforded  so  much 
pleasure.  And  why  wouldn't  Le  Corbusier  have  come  and 
offered  a  salute  to  the  renowned  Kazimir  from  the  city  of 

As  a  polemicist,  Malevich  remained  a  man  of  the  Futurist 
era  and  its  romantic  mythology.  In  one  of  his  letters  from 
Vitebsk  to  David  Shterenberg  in  Moscow — a  letter  written  in 
1921,  when  the  organization  of  the  Erste  russiscbe  Kunstausstellung 
{First  Russian  Art  Exhibition,  Berlin,  1922)  was  only  beginning 
to  be  discussed — Malevich  took  pains  to  emphasize  that  he  was 
an  ideological  worker  in  art.  And  that  the  Berlin  exhibition 
would  be  of  interest  to  him  only  if  his  "icons" — the  Black 
Square,  Chernyi  kri/g  {Black  Circle),  and  Cbernyi  krest  {Black 
Cross) — were  exhibited.  And  exhibited  only,  moreover,  under 
the  rubric  Suprernatizrn.  Rossiia.  1913  {Suprematism:  Russia,  1913)" 

Nineteen  thirteen?  By  now  this  date  has  been  quoted  any 
number  of  times."  As  if  Suprematism's  having  in  fact  emerged 
somewhat  later  than  1913  could  diminish  its  significance  in  the 
history  of  twentieth-century  art  and  discredit  it  in  its  own 
eyes.  To  be  sure,  many  such  "improved  chronologies"  have  been 
discovered  and  will  continue  to  be  discovered  in  accounts  of 
the  art  of  this  century.  Yet  Malevich,  who  was  a  genius  at 
hypnosis,  convinced  not  only  everyone  else  but  even  himself 
that  he  had  inaugurated  Suprematism  in  1913 — and  not  in  any 
other  year.  His  account  of  his  own  career  is  full  of  datings  of 
works  according  not  to  the  year  in  which  they  were  produced 
but  the  year  in  which  they  were  conceived." 


The  opera  Pobeda  nad solntsem  (Victory  over  the  Sun,  1913)  was, 
of  course,  a  major  event  in  the  history  of  Russian  Dadaism.  But 
in  the  history  of  Suprematism?  All  attempts  to  read  the  origins 
of  Suprematism  in  Malevich's  fortuitous  and  rather  banal  set 
design  for  the  opera  (the  square  in  his  sketch  of  the  curtain  was 
a  form  virtually  foreordained  by  the  box  shape  of  the  stage) 
reiterate  Malevich's  own  carefully  planted  suggestion.  He 
caught  a  lot  offish  with  this  line.  Though  that  certainly  casts 
no  shadow  on  the  historic  importance  of  Suprematism. 

Malevich's  mystifications  not  infrequently  force  one  to 
scrutinize  his  works  and  principles  more  closely. 

The  young  artists  in  Vitebsk  and  Smolensk,  at  the  most 
fifteen  to  eighteen  years  old,  asked  Malevich  about  the  origins 
of  the  first  Suprematist  works  and  of  the  Black  Square. 
Malevich  improvised  brilliantly.  Using  the  principle  of 
analogy.  According  to  a  famous  anecdote  in  the  history  of 
nineteenth-century  Russian  art,  the  prominent  historical 
painter  Vasilii  Surikov  could  not,  no  matter  how  he  tried,  get 
the  coloring  he  wanted  in  his  painting  The  Boyarina  Morozova 
(1887)  until  he  saw  the  solution  in  life:  a  black  crow  on  white 
snow.  Thus  Malevich  told  his  students  this  story:  one  day, 
following  a  spate  of  inclement  weather — at  the  time  he  was 
living  in  Moscow,  in  the  Sokol'niki  district,  in  a  house  rented 
by  Kliun — he  went  to  the  window  and  was  stunned  by  the 
contrast  between  the  freshly  fallen,  blindingly  white  snow  and 
the  black  knapsack  on  the  back  of  a  boy  leaving  the  house  for 
school.  Even  if  the  story  was  a  complete  fabrication,  it  was 
spectacularly  convincing.'4  Malevich  wrote  to  Mikhail 
Matiushin  to  announce  his  fevralizm  (Februaryism)  in 
painting."  So  what  if  the  absurdly  (like  so  many  other  of  his 
works  shown  at  the  o.  10  exhibition)  entitled  Zhivopisnyi  realizm 
mal'chika  s  rantsem  {Painterly  Realism  of  a  Boy  with  Knapsack, 
1915)  is  not  a  black  square  but  a  composition  of  two  squares — 
one  large  and  one  small?'6 

Such  anecdotes,  worthy  of  Vasari,  only  confirm  the  role 
played  by  emotional  impulse. 

Iron,  glass,  and  marble.  Malevich,  as  a  man  with  a  refined 
artistic  sensibility,  could  not  have  remained  oblivious  to  the 
originality  of  Tatlin's  works.  Yet  if  Suprematism  was  the  end- 
all  and  be-all  of  contemporary  painting's  evolution  from 
Impressionism,  if  it  was  the  single  truth,  the  existence  of 
Tatlin  put  the  problem  on  a  different  plane,  namely:  where  is 
the  truth;' 

Tatlin?  It  was  impossible  not  to  notice  him.  Just  as  it  was 
impossible  not  to  recognize  his  talent.  And  Malevich — the 
polemicist  and  "solipsist"  of  innovation — asked  his  students 
and  followers  to  repeat  after  him:  Tatlin  does  not  transcend  the 
confines  of  Cubism.'7  He  represents  only  a  stage  in  the 
evolution  of  Cubism.  Variations  rather  than  repetition,  maybe, 
still  not  true  innovation.  You  must  go  forward — follow  me — 
onward  to  the  new  harmony.  One  of  Malevich's  students  in 
Vitebsk,  marching  in  step  with  the  cult  of  the  great  leader 
promoted  from  above,  even  thought  up  a  slogan:  "Long  live 
Unovis — the  path  to  a  Suprematist  future — and  long  live 
Kazimir  Malevich,  the  true  guide  along  this  path!"'8 

For  Tatlin,  however,  "iron  blocked  the  horizon."'9  And  his 
task  was  to  "rupture  the  ring  of  the  horizon." 

Malevich  was  born  a  prophet,  mystifier,  leader,  and  artistic 
dictator.  And  he  was  very  human;  he  often  endured 
humiliations4"  and  had  learned  how  to  find  his  way  out  of  any 
situation.  In  Petrograd  in  the  1920s,  for  example,  confronted 
by  complete  repudiation  of  his  art,  he  conceived  a  kind  of 
applied  research,  the  "science  of  art,"  to  which  he  summoned 
vanguard  artists  now  bereft  of  social  standing. 

For  Tatlin,  being  an  artist  was  never  too  complicated.  He 
was  not  the  leader  of  any  movement  or  group,  nor  did  he  yearn 

to  be  such,  even  if  he  did  enjoy  indisputable  authority  among 
art  professionals,  both  vanguard  and  not.4'  He  was  not  overly 
impressed  by  the  fine  artistic  intuition  that  nature  had  given 
him.  It  seemed  a  given,  like  a  good  ear  for  a  musician.  And 
others  had  the  same  gift.  The  sharpness  and  precision  of  the  eye 
was  the  most  important  thing.  Absolutely  no  approximations 
or  imitations  of  artistic  impression.  Visual  perception  meant 
the  eye's  tactile  sensation  of  every  portion  of  a  work.  Sight, 
therefore,  had  to  be  put  under  the  control  of  touch.42 

The  eye  both  sees  and  touches  the  work.  It  sees  and  feels  the 
painting-like  warmth  of  tone  of  the  wood,  the  elasticity  and 
tension  of  the  iron,  the  cable  giving  under  the  iron's  weight. 
Every  rhythm  of  form.  The  light  and  shadows  of  every  facet  of 
the  relief.  Aesthetics  resides  in  the  "selection  of  materials,"  in 
the  fit  of  their  contradictions.  Precious  mahogany  and 
palisander,  for  example,  are  conjoined  with  an  ordinary  piece  of 
iron  used  for  roofing  and  drainpipes.  The  relief — to  quote 
Vladimir  Maiakovskii's  verse — is  "a  nocturne  on  a  drainpipe 

In  Tatlin's  Doska  No.  1  {Board  No.  1)  of  the  winter  of 
1916-17,  wood  and  paint  combine  to  create  a  play  of  color 
halftones,  interstices,  and  transitions.  In  its  power  and  subtlety, 
this  work  is  comparable  to  the  masterpieces  of  icon  painting. 

Tatlin  was  born  to  make  plastic  art,  nature,  and  technology 
into  one  great  new  whole.  He  was  not  a  man  of  particularly 
wide  intellectual  interests.  Malevich's  philosophical  prose 
summons  numerous  associations  with  the  philosophy  of  writers 
whom  he  not  only  had  not  read  (though  he  had,  for  example, 
read  Schopenhauer)  but  of  whom  he  had  not  even  heard.  Tatlin 
didn't  provide  such  a  goldmine  of  self-sufficient  intellectual 
constructs.  But  he  did  have  a  broad  grasp  of  the  problem.  In 
his  work,  material  and  space  strove  to  become  absolutely 
perfect  categories.  Material  lives  a  profoundly  organic  life,  it 
embraces  life  in  its  entirety  as  a  new  system  of  the  senses. 
Everything  is  perfected.  But  Tatlin's  was  not  the  notion — 
which  had  given  academic  painters  no  peace — of  the 
masterpiece  as  such.  It  was,  rather,  the  idea  of  absolute  plastic 
harmony,  in  which  artisanry  and  the  senses  are  inseparable.  In 
this  regard,  Tatlin — poorly  educated,  lacking  any  desire  to 
assert  himself  through  polemical  jousting,  a  classic  outsider — 
had  more  in  common  with  the  brilliant  Renaissance 
intellectual,  Leonardo  da  Vinci,  than  with  any  artist  of  his  own 
time  .  .  . 

And  yet,  why  did  the  outsider  Tatlin  enter  the  legendary 
battle  with  Malevich?  What  was  at  stake? 

Let  us  note:  Tatlin,  speaking  about  his  Tower — his 
"dynamo-form" — declared  iron  and  glass  the  "materials  of  the 
new  Classicism."4' 

On  the  one  hand,  he  proceeded,  as  always,  from  the  nature 
of  materials.  And  here  his  reasoning  dovetailed  with  the  logic 
of  architects  designing  industrial  structures:  "In  reinforced 
concrete  we  have  not  only  a  new  material  but,  of  far  greater 
consequence,  new  constructions  and  a  new  method  for 
designing  buildings.  Therefore,  in  using  [reinforced  concrete], 
we  have  to  renounce  the  old  traditions  and  concern  ourselves 
with  meeting  new  tasks."44  Let  us  also  note  that  Tatlin  began  to 
work  on  his  Tower  at  the  same  time  as  construction 
commenced  on  the  engineer  Vladimir  Shukhov's  radio  tower  in 
Moscow.  (The  radio  tower,  as  originally  envisioned,  was  to 
reach  a  height  of  350  meters.)45 

On  the  other  hand,  Tatlin  invested  the  phrase  "materials  of 
the  new  Classicism"  with  an  artistic  significance.  A  definition 
of  new  canons  of  form  with  the  aid  of  new  materials. 

In  Petrograd  in  1923,  Malevich's  student,  Il'ia  Chashnik, 
completed  a  study  for  the  cover  of  the  never-published 
Suprematizm  kak  novyi  klassitsizm  {Suprematism  as  the  New 
Classicism).^  Slogans  like  "Back  to  Ingres!"  weren't  at  issue,  but 


rather,  once  again,  a  definition  of  new  long-term  laws  for  the 
construction  of  form. 

We  must  conclude,  returning  to  the  rivalry  between 
Malevich  and  Tatlin,  that  theirs  was  a  contest  not  over 
leadership  but  over  truth — over  which  path  in  contemporary 
art  was  the  true  one.  Malevich,  otherwise  a  diplomat  and 
pragmatist,  was  in  no  mood  for  conciliation  on  this  score. 
While  Tatlin,  according  to  the  memoirs  of  Punin  (who 
endeavored  in  a  variety  of  circumstances  to  reconcile  Tatlin  to 
reality),  was  incapable  of  compromise  in  almost  any  situation.4 
Tatlin's  entire  life,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  confirms  this  assertion. 

History  does  not  wait.  It  lays  down  an  ultimatum. 

-Pitirim  Sorokin"g 

The  Civil  War  presented  both  vanguard  artists  with  a  dramatic 

The  new  art  had  been  born  of  the  struggle  for  a  self- 
sufficient  artistic  language  and  a  non-objective  artistic  world. 
Now  the  state  wanted  to  make  art  a  mere  vehicle  for  agitprop,49 
to  limit  it  to  an  educational  function — to  illustration  of  the 
requisite  slogans  and  notions.  What  was  important  to  the  new 
state  was  "not  to  carry  out  a  revolution  in  art  (which  is 
impossible)  but  to  put  art  at  the  service  of  the  revolution."*0 
These  words  were  repeated  by  Party  cultural  functionaries  from 
one  year  to  the  next,  and  almost  verbatim. 

Malevich  and  Tatlin  had  different — yet,  in  some  sense, 
similar — reactions  to  this  development. 

"Decoration  of  the  city  for  revolutionary  festivities" — this 
neutral  bookkeeper's  formulation  on  an  invoice  fit  the 
superrevolutionary  decoration  of  Vitebsk  to  a  tee,  until  the 
authorities  understood  that  the  propaganda  effect  of  this  work 
was  nonexistent,  if  not  negative.  In  all  honesty,  who,  finding 
himself  in  a  strange  and  joyous  world  of  particolored  planes, 
was  about  to  mull  over  revolution  and  counterrevolution? 
These  decorations  were  experiments  in  a  new  mural  painting, 
experiments  in  Suprematist  design,  yet  the  words  and  agitprop 
phrases  incorporated  in  them  were  incidental  and  ineffective. 
Why  is  the  beautiful  composition  of  colored  planes  on  Nikolai 
Suetin's  panel  accompanied  by  the  slogan  "Religion  is  the 
opium  of  the  people"?  Which  religion?  What  opium?  And 
what  people — drug  addicts,  perhaps?  The  man  on  the  street 
could  hardly  have  cared  less.  Some  people  were  stopped  by  the 
vividness  of  the  colors.  Others  jumped  back  from  the  strange 
combinations  of  geometric  forms  out  of  a  textbook.  Did  people 
stand  before  Lissitzky's  poster  Klinom  krasnym  bei  belykh  (Beat 
the  Whites  with  the  Red  Wedge.  1920,  plate  no.  138)  and  decipher 
its  symbolism?  Only  the  dynamics  of  its  composition  made  any 

Examining  agitprop  art  from  such  a  "bourgeois," 
consumerist  vantage  helps  one  comprehend  the  "aesthetic 
scissors,"  that  is,  the  divergent  blades  of  the  artist's  interest  in 
working  in  an  urban  space  and  his  obvious  (in  many  cases) 
indifference  to  the  tasks  of  abstract  propaganda. 

As  one  of  the  leaders  at  the  Moscow  Art  Board  of  Izo 
Narkompros  (the  Department  of  Fine  Arts  of  the  People's 
Commissariat  of  Enlightenment),  Tatlin  was  privy  to  efforts  to 
carry  out  the  so-called  Plan  for  Monumental  Propaganda — 
monuments  to  progressive  revolutionary  and  cultural  figures  of 
the  past.  Several  of  the  names  on  the  list  of  candidates  drawn 
up  by  the  intellectuals  were  crossed  out  "at  the  top."  Without 
discussion.  Case  closed.  The  philosopher  Vladimir  Solov'ev,  for 
instance,  and  Cezanne,  a  classic  in  the  eyes  of  new  artists  in 
Moscow.  Documents  that  might  reveal  how  the  Art  Board 
reacted  to  Cezanne's  removal  from  the  list  have  not,  it  seems, 
survived.  (In  1920,  the  art  club  at  Vkhutemas  [the  Higher 
Artistic-Technical  Workshops]  would  be  named  the  Cezanne 

fig- 4 

Nikolai  Prusakov 

Study  for  a  Stove,  1920. 


Club.)  Yet  it  is  clear  that  this  mechanical  approach  to  the  task 
at  hand  and  treatment  of  monuments  as  illustrations  on  an 
assigned  theme  did  not  suit  Tatlin  at  all.  "Monumental 
propaganda"  might  just  as  well  have  been  called  "sculptural 

Tatlin's  Tower  was  conceived  in  direct  argument  with  the 
Plan  for  Monumental  Propaganda  and  the  manner  in  which  it 
was  slated  to  be  implemented.  In  order  to  work  on  his  project, 
Tatlin  had  to  leave  Moscow  in  1919  for  Petrograd,  where,  with 
Punin's  help,  he  managed  to  get  a  modest  subsidy,  materials, 
and  a  place  to  work:  the  former  mosaics  workshop  of  the 
Academy  of  Fine  Arts.  The  workshop's  former  director,  the 
ceramicist  Petr  Vaulin,  protested.  Now  was  the  very  time  to  be 
thinking  about  "erecting  houses  and  temples  of  the  people, 
decorated  with  mosaics.""  He  had  no  idea  that  Tatlin  was 
occupied  with  a  similarly  impractical  project.  The  Tower  was 
one  in  a  series,  stretching  far  back  in  history  and  culture,  of 
architectural  constructions  that  were  monuments  and  icons  of 
their  age.  A  series  that  began  with  the  legendary  Tower  of 
Babel  and  included,  in  Russia,  the  church  in  the  village  of 
Kolomenskoe  outside  Moscow  and  (a  later  addition)  the 
Cathedral  of  Christ  the  Saviour  in  Moscow,  erected  to  mark  the 
defeat  of  Napoleon." 

The  spirals  of  the  Tower,  like  serpentine  mountain  roads, 
energetically  wound  their  way  up  into  "Malevich's  heavens." 

The  Tower's  abstract,  cosmic  symbolizing  of  perception  lent 
its  functional  intentions  a  particular  cast.  It  was  made  "from 
iron,  glass,  and  revolution,"  but  also  from  reverie,  hunger,  and 
isolation.  The  Tower  might  possibly  house  a  cafeteria — a 
dream  in  a  time  when  food  was  scarce — and  studios  for  artists, 
too.  In  it,  the  dynamism  of  life  acquired  the  solemnity  of  a 
chorale.  A  monument  in  half-frozen  and  half-deserted 
Petrograd,  a  monument  on  the  banks  of  the  Lethe — built  for 
no  specific  city,  for  no  specific  country.  A  monument  to  the 
ruin  of  the  times  and  a  monument  to  the  spirit  of  absolute 

The  world  had  collapsed  and  the  world  lived. 

It  was  both  the  creation  of  the  artist  and  the  voice  of 

"An  absurd  and  naive,  monstrous  beast  with  a  radio- 
telegraph horn  on  its  head  and  the  legislative  assembly  of  the 
Third  International  in  its  belly"?v' 

"The  Council  of  People's  Commissars  would  flee  from  such 
a  building  on  the  first  sunny  day  and,  camped  out  nearby  on 
the  grass,  would  immediately  issue  a  decree  that  Tatlin's  tower 
is  for  rent,  at  public  auction,  to  horticulturists  wishing  to  grow 

The  Tower  was  a  sign  and  symbol  not  of  revolutionary 
Russia  but  of  the  new  era  in  its  entirety. 

Tatlin's  Tower  was  immediately  perceived  and  adopted  by 
artists  in  the  1920s  as  the  sign  of  a  new  artistic  consciousness, 
not  as  a  monument  to  the  Third  International.  What  was  the 
connotation  of  "Third  International"  for  Tatlin?  A  common 
phrase  of  the  Civil  War  period.  At  the  time,  Izo  Narkompros, 
for  example,  was  planning  to  publish  (but  never  did)  a 
multilingual  journal  entitled  Internatsional  iskusstva  (Art 
International).  Both  Tatlin  and  Malevich  prepared  texts  for  it, 
Tatlin's  contribution  consisting  of  clear,  extremely  brief 
"theses. '"'''  The  artists'  International  denoted  not  establishment 
of  a  Bolshevik  dictatorship  all  over  the  globe  but  lifting  of  the 
curse  of  disunion  from  humanity. 

There  were  few  who  found  the  Tower  to  produce  an 
agitprop  effect  any  more  persuasive  that  of  the  Suprematist 
panels.  This  was  no  targeted  attack  of  the  sort  found  in  Sergei 
Eizenshtein's  films. 

When  the  model  of  the  Tower  was  first  exhibited,  in 
Petrograd  in  November  1920,  the  opening — which  was  called, 

as  the  idiom  of  the  time  dictated,  a  meeting — was  attended  by 
stunned  representatives  of  the  Petrograd  art  world,  astonished 
at  what  they  beheld,  and — for  form's  sake;  after  all,  it  was  a 
meeting — by  a  handful  of  sailors  and  Red  Army  soldiers.  In 
December  the  model  was  exhibited  in  Moscow  at  the  Eighth 
Congress  of  Soviets;  it  was  displayed  among  diagrams,  posters, 
and  other  types  of  agitprop  and  didactic  production  at  the 
former  Association  of  the  Nobility.  Pavel  Mansurov,  the  young 
non-objective  artist  from  Petrograd  who  designed  the 
exhibition,  did  a  good  job  of  "serving  up"  Tatlin.  But  the 
delegates  didn't  bite.  The  Tower  unleashed  a  storm  at  a 
discussion  of  the  model  at  Vkhutemas's  Cezanne  Club.  There 
both  Naum  Gabo  and  Lissitzky  argued  for  it  as  the  most 
concrete  of  architectural  projects,  which  needed  to  be  realized 
not  so  much  today  as  tomorrow.57  Both  would  eventually  do  a 
great  deal  to  popularize  the  Tower  in  the  West. 

A  version  of  the  model  was  displayed — as  if  it  were  a 
standard  agitprop  object,  like  the  inevitable  bust  of  Lenin — at 
the  Exposition  internationale  des  arts  decoratifs  et  industriels 
modernes  (International  Exhibition  of  Contemporary  Decorative  and 
Industrial  Art)  in  Paris  in  1925.  And  at  the  Voina  v  iskusstve  (War 
in  Art)  exhibition  in  Leningrad  in  1930.  After  which  the  model 
was  dismantled  and  stored  away  somewhere.  With  time,  all  of 
its  parts  were  lost.  A  section  of  one  of  its  spirals  was  used  for  a 
brief  period  as  a  ladder. 

Balanced,  "middle-of-the-road"  opinions  were  virtually 
absent  in  the  first  debates  about  the  Tower.  Either  a  work  of 
genius  or  a  nonentity.  The  years  of  engage  Realism,  it  would 
seem,  resolved  the  impasse  in  favor  of  nonentity. 

One  modest  informant  about  the  debate  over  the  Tower 
reported:  "If  the  idea  of  the  monument  is  truly  new  and 
valuable,  then  it  will  never  die.  Prophets  have  not  always  been 
stoned  and  imposters  have  not  always  succeeded."'8 

Others  left  {Russia},  but  as  it  turned  out,  those  who  stayed  on  had 
also  left. 

— Vladimir  Veidle™ 

Neither  Tatlin  nor  Malevich  was  deceived  by  the  turn  of 
phrase.  They  did  not  believe  that  "revolution  and  'revolution  in 
art'  are  the  same  thing."60  They  had  an  opportunity  to  join 
forces,  if  not  in  the  struggle  for  the  new  art,  then  at  least  in 
resisting  the  advent  of  engage  art.  Punin  arranged  a  temporary 
truce  between  the  warring  sides.  He  facilitated  Tatlin's 
invitation  to  Ginkhuk  (the  State  Institute  of  Artistic  Culture). 
Students  held  meetings  to  demand  that  Malevich  and  Tatlin 
teach  at  the  Academy  of  Fine  Arts/"  At  the  Petrogradskie 
khudozhniki  vsekh  napravlenii  (Petrograd  Artists  of  All  Trends) 
exhibition  in  Petrograd  in  1923,  work  both  by  Tatlin  and  by 
Malevich's  school  was  displayed.  Hardly  anyone  realized  that 
this  was  not  the  beginning  but  the  end  of  the  era  of  artistic 

Tatlin,  as  he  said,  was  "bored."  He  loved  his  work  and 
materials  and  did  not  like  to  give  the  impression  that  he  was 
occupied  with  anything  other  than  his  own  work. 

Malevich  was  diverted  by  the  game  of  art  as  science.  He  was 
living,  as  it  were,  a  second  life  in  art,  from  Impressionism  to 
Suprematism,  and  often  appeared  already  to  have  gone  beyond 
the  boundaries  of  Suprematism.  Where? 

The  analytical  investigations  of  the  Suprematists  of  Unovis 
in  Vitebsk  and  at  Ginkhuk  stimulated  new  types  of  creative 
work:  Suprematist  architecture,  on  the  one  hand  (it  would  be 
more  correct  to  say  three-dimensional  Suprematist 
architectonics),  and  "painterly-plastic  realism,"  on  the  other. 
The  latter  was  no  repetition  of  the  Impressionism  of  Monet  or 
the  painting  of  Leger,  of  the  flickering  metallic  faktura  of  the 
Cubism  of  their  teacher,  or  of  exercises  on  the  magnetism  of 


fig-  5 

Konstantin  Via/of 
Relief,  ipip. 


the  interrelations  of  Suprematist  forms.  The  individuality  of 
each  person  was  expressed  in  the  process  of  experiencing  the 
world  in  painting.  Here  there  was  a  certain  merger  of  artists 
who  had  been  members  of  Malevich's  circle  and  artists  who  had 
passed  through  Matiushin's  school.  A  preference  for  the 
universal  gave  way  to  the  private.  Suetin's  paintings  juxtaposed 
the  traditions  of  Suprematism  with  the  mysticism  of  old 
Russian  art.  In  his  own  works,  Malevich  was  not  infrequently 
the  exponent  of  the  group's  ideas  rather  than  the  initiator  of 
the  new.  At  times  this  led  to  conflicts,  yet  his  students'  respect 
for  their  teacher  remained  unchanged.62 

Tatlin  did  not  support  the  beautiful  mystification  of 
Malevich.  He  was  "hounded  out"  of  Ginkhuk  and  left  for  Kiev. 
There  he  worked  for  two  years  in  the  Department  of  Dramatic, 
Cinematic,  and  Photographic  Arts  of  the  Kiev  Art  Institute. 
His  students  constructed  complicated  interiors  on  the  principle 
of  his  counter-relief.  (This  is  somewhat  reminiscent  of  Kurt 
Schwitters.)  Clashes  among  groups  and  movements  in 
Ukraine?  Nothing  of  the  sort  interested  him.6' 

The  rector  of  Vkhutein  (the  Higher  Artistic-Technical 
Institute),  the  sociologizing  Pavel  Novitskii,  invited  him  back 
to  Moscow  to  teach.  A  small  circle  of  attentive  students 
quickly  formed  around  him  in  Vkhutein's  Ceramics  Faculty.64 
But  in  the  more  "visible"  Wood-  and  Metalworking  Faculty, 
Tatlin  was  clearly  not  understood — even  though  his  colleagues 
there  included  Gustav  Klutsis,  Lissitzky,  and  Rodchenko.6' 
Tatlin  spoke  of  his  work  in  the  same  words  as  they,  yet  was 
plainly  unable  to  draw  up  a  teaching  program.  That  his 
students  produced  work  not  at  all  similar  to  that  of  students  in 
the  other  workshops  went  unnoticed. 

Tatlin  proposed  bionic  principles  for  constructing  artistic 
form  .  .  . 

The  influence  of  my  art  is  expressed  in  the  movement  of  the 
Constructivists,  of  which  I  am  the  founder. 

-Tatlin ' 

Tatlin's  path  and  that  of  Suprematism  in  the  1920s  are  shaded 
by  their  attitude  toward  Moscow  Constructivism — the  central 
phenomenon  of  Russian  art  of  that  decade. 

Constructivism  attempted  to  answer  all  the  questions  posed 
by  the  era.  It  took  into  account  Tatlin's  experience,  as  well  as 
the  Suprematism  fiercely  rejected  by  the  theorists  close  to  him. 
It  even  answered  the  hopelessly  difficult  question  of  how  art 
can  function  amid  the  collapse  of  normal  human  society  by 
advancing  an  art  that  participated  directly  in  the  process  of 
building  life — that  is,  production  art.  The  term  "production 
art"  was  then  applied  in,  as  it  were,  two  dimensions:  art  for  life 
(excluding  easel  painting  and  sculpture  "needed  by  no  one") 
and  new  constructive  approaches  to  the  solution  of  the  tasks  of 
this  art  (or  these  arts).67 

Malevich  placed  an  equals  sign  between  Constructivism  as  a 
new  method  in  art  and  the  ideas  of  utilitarianism,  which  he 
disparaged  as  "subsistence  art."  Constructivism  thus  meant 
service — by  new  devices,  in  a  new  style — of  the  agitprop  and 
utilitarian  needs  of  society. 

Rodchenko?  Long  after  Rodchenko  had  countered 
Malevich's  spiritual  meditations  in  Beloe  na  belom  {White  on 
White,  1918)  with  his  art  of  the  abyss,  of  the  void — Chernoe  na 
chernom  (Black  on  Black,  1918,  plate  no.  240) — Malevich  still, 
among  his  circle  of  followers,  spoke  Rodchenko's  name  as 
something  absolutely  negative. 

A  certain  movement  emerged  within  Unovis.  A  movement 
that  did  not  renounce  the  language  of  Suprematism,  yet 
worked  with  the  new  constructive  forms.  Lissitzky  and  Klutsis; 
Chashnik's  tribune  and  Suetin's  architectural  designs  of  1921. 
This  trend  contributed  a  great  deal  to  the  art  of  the  1920s.  In  it 

we  find  the  working  out  of,  or  demand  for  a  solution  to, 
problems  of  new  architectural  form,  design,  and  book  art. 
Lissitzky,  who  thought  in  categories  of  an  epoch's  single  style, 
considered  this  trend  and  the  activities  of  Obmokhu  (the 
Society  of  Young  Artists)  in  Moscow  to  be  the  sources  of  a  new 
international  constructive  style. 

Obmokhu  remains  one  of  the  myths  in  the  history  of 
Constructivism.  It  hindered  both  Gabo,  the  romantic  of  a  new 
technological  art,  and  Lissitzky.  For  a  very  simple  reason. 
Rarely  in  the  works  of  Obmokhu  do  we  encounter  new 
methods  of  strictly  artistic  thinking — methods  that,  for 
example,  are  obvious  in  Lissitzky  (who,  given  his  striking 
receptivity  to  "outside  influences,"  might  easily  seem  on  the 
surface  an  eternal  "eclectic").  Rather,  in  many  works  by  the 
members  of  Obmokhu  (Karl  Ioganson's  simple  structuralist 
constructions  are  one  exception),  "engineerism"  is  advanced  as 
the  new,  topical,  up-to-the-minute  theme  of  art.  Not 
infrequently  a  construction  is  not  truly  constructed  but  merely 
depicted.  A  similar  phenomenon  can  be  observed  among 
Obmokhu's  contemporaries,  the  painters  of  the 
Electroorganism  group.68 

Tatlin?  Well,  of  course,  his  Tower  did  initiate 
Constructivism  as  a  special  trend  in  Moscow.  The  Tower  was 
one  of  the  indispensable  icons  of  the  international  style  of  the 
1920s,  figuring  in  publications  on  painting  and  sculpture,  on 
design  and  architecture.  It  was  as  essential  to  them  as  it  was 
virtually  useless  in  the  concrete  context  of  Moscow  artistic  life. 
Of  course,  the  Tower's  unseen  presence  was  a  very  important 
factor.  Yet  the  Moscow  Constructivists  invented  their  own 
history.  Tatlin  was  not  excluded  from  it,  but  he  was  not 
granted  any  advantages,  either.6' 

The  impulse  provided  by  Tatlin  and  the  actual  evolution  of 
the  idea  of  Constructivism  in  Moscow  during  the  1920s 
diverged  objectively  and  decisively. 

Organic  artistic  culture,  toward  which  Tatlin  was  moving 
during  these  years,  and  Constructivism  were  no  less  opposed 
than  were  Suprematism  and  Constructivism.  (Although  many 
Constructivist  projects — at  least  outwardly,  on  a  stylistic 
level — preserved  an  echo  of  Suprematism.)70 

The  Constructivists  recklessly  spoke  of  replacing  art  with 
life  and  wanted  to  make  the  object  of  production  the  object  of 
art.7'  Tatlin  built  a  stove  in  his  room  to  keep  from  freezing, 
sewed  a  specially  tailored  coat  to  keep  from  shivering  in  the 
wind,  and  cut  himself  a  comfortable  work  suit. 

Playing  with  the  industrial  production  of  an  object  was  not 
the  last  motivation  of  the  design  solutions  of  the  Moscow 
Constructivists.  Tatlin's  designs  are  those  of  a  Robinson  Crusoe 
who  finds  himself  on  an  uninhabited  island.  And  in  this 
sense — given  the  actual  conditions  in  Russia  at  the  beginning 
of  the  1920s — he  was  more  of  a  realist  than  were  the  Moscow 
Constructivists  creating  lovely  designs  disengaged  from  real 
life.  This  was  no  Utopia,  not  fantasies  of  the  unrealizable,  but 
the  fashion  of  the  day,  full  of  life  and  energy — had  life  been 
normal.  Tatlin's  designs  are  the  designs  of  a  hunter  wintering 
in  the  taiga  and  not  counting  on  any  help  from  anywhere. 

The  Constructivists  affirmed  the  model  of  a  life  which 
could  be — for  them,  the  form  of  art  determined  new  forms  of 
life.  Tatlin  criticized  the  Constructivists — the  "so-called 
Constructivists" — for  their  imitation,  as  it  appeared  to  him,  of 
contemporary  style.  2 

Letatlin  (1929-32)  is  a  flying  bird,  Tatlin's  bicycle,  on  which 
one  can  "sail"  through  the  air. 

In  artistic  circles  reactions  varied  yet  all  struck  basically  the 
same  chord:  "he's  flown  out  of  art,"  "a  move  into  technology,"7' 
"an  amazing  character,  but  absolutely  no  artist."74 

And  in  nonartistic  circles:  "a  work  of  art."75 


The  causes  and  effects  were  confused. 

Tatlin:  "Nature  is  more  clever  than  mechanics." 

His  speculative  and  sincere  critics: 

In  the  depths  of  that  worldview.  out  of  which  Letatlin  wishes 
to  fly,  the  heavy  reactionary  biases  of  the  departing  class  are 
thickening.  {The  accusatory  tone  of  the  prosecutor  is  heard.}  And  what 
are  they?  Worship  of  nature,  hostility  to  the  machine,  an  adjustment 
of  technology  to  the  feelings  of  the  individual  person,  naive  faith  in  the 
"wisdom"  of  organic  forms,  withdrawal  from  the  industrial  world.'6 

This  is  indeed  hard  to  square  with  the  popular  saying  of  the 
Stalinist  era:  "You  can't  wait  for  charity  from  nature!  Our  task 
is  to  take  it  from  her." 

//  was  a  true  perversion  that  unwashed  and  illiterate  Russia,  the  Rus ' 
of  Chekhov  and  Bunin,  allowed  itself  the  luxury  of  Chekhov  and 
Bunin,  and,  moreover,  of  Skriabin.  Vrubel'.  and  Blok. 

— Mikhail  Levidm  ' 

It  is  not  at  all  surprising  that  the  art  of  the  1930s  ignored  both 
Tatlin  and  Malevich. 

In  Moscow's  strange  and  Disneylandish  Central  Park  of 
Culture  and  Rest,  people  jumped  from  a  parachute  tower 
reminiscent  of  Tatlin's  monument."* 

Suetin  created  a  pylon  with  the  text  of  the  Soviet 
constitution  for  the  Exposition  Internationale  des  arts  et  des 
techniques  (International  Exhibition  of  Art  and  Technology.  Paris, 
1937)  in  the  shape  of  an  arkhitekton — and  no  one  even 
not  iced. "' 

Tatlin  painted  landscapes,  still  lifes,  and  portraits,  but  did 
not  exhibit  them. 

Malevich,  with  his  strikingly  developed  social  instinct,  once 
again  attempted  to  outdo  everyone  upon  his  release  from  jail 
(after  having  been  arrested  in  Kiev  in  1930).  In  an  ordinary 
composition  of  colored  stripes  he  included  a  row  of  galloping 
cavalrymen  (plate  no.  397).  You  want  a  "Soviet"  picture — here, 
take  it!  Many  artists,  incidentally,  made  similar  gestures 
during  these  years  when  the  "Soviet  theme  painting"  was 
affirmed  as  the  basis  of  Soviet  art.  Malevich  did  not  gain  much 
by  such  a  strategy  and  he  resorted  to  it  extremely  rarely.  It 
didn't  help  at  all.  One  of  his  students  still  has  a  letter  to 
Malevich  (it  arrived  one  day  after  his  death)  notifying  him  that 
his  request  for  a  pension  had  been  turned  down.*0 

The  first  steps  of  Pop  Art,  the  art  of  assemblage,  the  flying 
apparatus  of  Ponamarenko,  Joseph  Beuys's  felt  suits  .  .  .  Lucio 
Fontana,  Mark  Rothko,  Minimalism — in  which  Suprematism 
and  Constructivism  were  finally  reconciled — the  Zero  group. 

Marcel  Duchamp,  Kazimir  Malevich,  Kurt  Schwitter^, 
Vladimir  Tatlin. 

— Translated,  from  the  Russian,  by  Todd  Bludeau 


The  quotation  in  the  initial  epigraph  is  taken  from 

A.  Kruchenykh  and  V.  Khlebnikov,  Slovo  kak  takovoe  (Moscow: 

EUY,  1913),  p.  3. 

1.  A  copy  of  this  announcement  of  the  exhibition  in  Tatlin's 
studio  is  in  the  Manuscript  Division,  State  Russian  Museum, 
St.  Petersburg,  f.  121,  d.  117,  1.  61. 

2.  This  relief  was  reproduced  in  Ivan  Puni,  Sovremennaia 
zhivopis' (Berlin:  Frenkel',  1923),  p.  30. 

3.  The  exhibitions  were  held  not  only  in  Moscow  and 
St.  Petersburg  but  in  Kiev  as  well. 

4.  The  festivities — which  included  fireworks  and  floats  along 
the  Neva  River  in  St.  Petersburg  and  a  procession  of  "boyars" 
in  Red  Square  in  Moscow — were  matched  in  scale  only  by  such 
mass  spectacles  as  The  Storming  of  the  Winter  Palace  in  Petrograd 
in  1919-20. 

5.  The  episode  was  reported  in  the  Moscow  press.  See,  for 
example,  "Dve  vystavki,"  Nov'  152  (December  23,  1914),  and 
"Khudozhniki — zhertvam  voiny,"  Rannee  utro  232  (December  7, 
1914).  Malevich  was  among  the  "victims"  whose  works  were 
removed  by  the  jury  prior  to  the  opening  of  the  exhibition. 

6.  Shchukin's  "coup"  was  reported  in  the  morning  edition  of 
Birzhevye  vedomosti  14706  (March  4,  1915). 

7.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin,  September 
24,  1915,  Manuscript  Division,  Pushkin  House,  St.  Petersburg, 
quoted  from  E.  F.  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k 

M.  V.  Matiushinu,"  Ezhegodnik  Rukopisnogo  otdela  Pushkinskogo 
doma  na  1974  god  ( Leningrad :  Nauka,  1976),  p.  187. 

8.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin,  January 
1916,  private  archive,  Frankfurt. 

9.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin, 
September  24,  1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k 
M.  V.  Matiushinu,"  p.  188. 

10.  Quoted  in  V.  Lenin  i  izobrazitel'noe  iskusstvo.  Dokumenty. 
Pis'ma.  Vospominaniia  (Moscow:  Izobrazitel'noe  iskusstvo,  1977), 

11.  Two  leaflets  were  distributed  at  the  exhibition,  one  with 
statements  by  Malevich,  Ivan  Kliun,  and  Mikhail  Men'kov,  the 
other  with  statements  by  Ivan  Puni  and  Kseniia  Boguslavskaia. 
A  small  booklet  containing  both  leaflets  was  also  published. 

12.  K.  Malevich,  Ot  kubizma  k  suprematizmu.  Novyi  zhivopisnyi 
realizm  (Petrograd,  1916).  The  brochure  was  in  fact  printed  in 
December  1915,  in  time  for  the  opening  of  the  a  jo  exhibition. 

13.  See,  for  example,  Aleksandr  Benua,  "Posledniaia 
futuristicheskaia  vystavka,"  Rech',  January  9,  1916.  The 
expression  "oncoming  boor"  was  Dmitrii  Merezhkovskii's  (see 
his  "Eshche  odin  shag  griadushchego  khama,"  Russkoe  slovo. 
June  29,  1914).  See  also  Jane  A.  Sharp,  "The  Critical  Reception 
of  the  0.10  Exhibition:  Malevich  and  Benua,"  in  this  volume. 

14.  A.  Kruchenykh,  I.  Kliun,  and  K.  Malevich,  Tainye poroki 
akademikov  (Moscow,  19 16),  p.  30. 

15.  Varst  {Varvara  Stepanova],  "Vystavka  Ol'gi  Rozanovoi," 
Iskusstvo  4  (February  22,  1919),  p.  3. 

16.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Konstantin  Rozhdestvenskii, 
April  21,  1927,  private  archive,  Moscow. 

17.  Unovis  slogans,  1920,  private  archive,  St.  Petersburg:  GIZ. 


i8.  "Khudozhniki  na  dispute  ob  AKhRR,"  Zhizn' iskusstva  6 

19.  N.  Punin,  Tatlin  (protiv  kubizma)  (St.  Petersburg:  GIZ, 
1921),  pp.  17-18.  Lev  Bruni  devised  these  formulae  in  1916. 

20.  The  booklet,  like  Malevich's  Ot  kubizma  k  suprematizmu,  was 
published  in  time  for  the  opening  of  the  0.10  exhibition.  Sergei 
Isakov's  article  "K  kontr-rel'efam  Tatlina"  appeared 
simultaneously  in  Novyi  zhurnal  dlia  vsekh  12,  pp.  46—50;  Novyi 
zhurnal  dlia  vsekh  was  also  the  publisher  of  Vladimir  Evgrafovich 

21.  This  work  is  known  only  from  old  photographs.  Pestel's 
family  also  retains  letters  of  hers  from  the  early  1950s  in  which 
she  mentions  Tatlin. 

22.  One  of  the  most  recent  publications  on  the  Verbovka 
collective  is  Ornament  and  Design.  Nadezhda  Udaltsowa.  Varvara 
Stepanowa.  Alexandr  Rodcbenko  (Moscow  and  Frankfurt  am 
Main:  Gallery  Manege,  1991). 

23.  This  according  to  Pestel's  memoirs. 

24.  V.  Khodasevich,  Portrety  slovami  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  pisatel', 
1987),  p.  106.  In  this  publication,  her  reminiscences  about 
Tatlin  have,  unfortunately,  been  severely  abridged. 

25.  S.  Dymshits-Tolstaia,  "Vospominaniia,"  1939—40, 
Manuscript  Division,  State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg, 
f.  700,  ed.  khr.  249. 

26.  L.  S.  Aleshina  and  N.  V.  Iavorskaia,  comp.,  B.  N.  Ternovets. 
Pis'ma.  Dnevniki.  Stat'i  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1977), 
p.  242. 

27.  In  Paris,  Mukhina  saw  Popova  often,  and  it  is  likely  that 
she  met  Tatlin  through  Popova. 

28.  Lipchitz,  who  had  been  living  in  Paris  for  some  time,  acted 
as  a  translator  for  Tatlin. 

29.  See  A.  Strigalev,  "O  poezdke  Tatlina  v  Berlin  i  Parizh," 
Iskusstvo  2  (1989),  pp.  39-43,  and  Iskusstvo  3  (1989),  pp.  26-30. 

30.  The  photograph  has  been  published  in  K.  S.  Malevich, 
Essays  on  Art,  Ipi$-ip33,  ed.  Troels  Andersen,  trans.  Xenia 
Glowacki-Prus  and  Arnold  McMillin  (London:  Rapp  & 
Whiting,  1969),  vol.  1,  ill.  5. 

31.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  David  Shterenberg,  February  16, 
1921,  private  archive,  Moscow. 

32.  The  date  1913  appears  without  caveat  in  the  catalogue, 
Destataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka.  Si/prematizm  i  bespredmetnoe 
tvorchestvo  (Moscow:  Otdel  IZO  Narkomprosa,  1919) — both  in 
Malevich's  statement  (p.  16)  and  in  Stepanova's  (p.  7). 

33.  This  was  owing,  in  part,  to  Malevich's  desire  to  "improve" 
his  old  works  in  advance  of  his  trip  to  the  West  in  1927  and  his 
solo  show  at  the  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery  in  1929.  The  resulting 
confusion  in  dating  was  particularly  apparent  at  the  Malevich 
exhibition  held  at  the  Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam,  in  1989. 

34.  This  story  evidently  had  its  origins  in  conversations  with 
his  followers  in  Vitebsk  and  Smolensk  in  1920. 

35.  The  term  fevralizm  is,  nonetheless,  likely  tied  to  the  white, 
"snowlike"  backgrounds  of  the  paintings. 

36.  A  postcard  reproducing  the  painting,  with  a  contemporary 
inscription  on  the  reverse  identifying  the  work,  is  reproduced 
in  Angelica  Zander  Rudenstine,  ed.,  Russian  Avant-Garde  Art: 
The  George  Costakis  Collection  (New  York:  Abrams,  1981),  p.  57. 
The  inscription  is  in  fact  Malevich's  own. 

37.  Malevich  gave  his  view  of  the  history  of  Russian  Cubism 
in  the  context  of  European  Cubism — and  of  Tatlin's  place  in 
the  historical  process — in  articles  published  in  Ukrainian  in 
the  Khar'kov  journal,  Nova  heneratsiia  (New  Generation),  in 
1928.  Both  have  been  published  in  English;  see  "The 
Constructive  Painting  of  Russian  Artists  and  Constructivism," 
in  K.  S.  Malevich,  Essays  on  Art.  ipi^—ip^,  ed.  Troels  Andersen, 
trans.  Xenia  Glowacki-Prus  and  Arnold  McMillin  (London: 
Rapp  &  Whiting,  1969),  vol.  2,  pp.  74-84. 

38.  Unovis  slogans,  1920,  private  archive,  St.  Petersburg. 

39.  Quoted  in  Dymshits-Tolstaia,  "Vospominaniia." 

40.  Malevich  was  threatened  with  arrest  toward  the  end  of  his 
stay  in  Vitebsk,  but  was  spared,  thanks  to  the  help  of  Robert 
Fal'k.  In  1927  and  in  1930,  however,  he  was  arrested. 

41.  It  was  owing  to  his  stature  that  Tatlin  became  a  leading 
figure  in  the  reform  of  artistic  life  after  the  February 

42.  Tatlin,  who  attached  little  importance  to  dates,  gave  1912 — 
and  sometimes  1913  and  1914 — as  the  year  in  which  he 
advanced  this  slogan. 

43.  V  Tatlin,  T  Shapiro,  I.  Meerzon,  and  P.  Vinogradov, 
"Nasha  predstoiashchaia  rabota,"  VIII  s"ezd sovetov.  Ezhednevnyi 
biulleten' s"ezda  13  (January  1,  1921),  p.  11. 

44.  Zodchii  19  (1915),  p.  198. 

45.  The  Eiffel  Tower,  by  comparison,  is  300  meters  tall. 

46.  Private  archive,  United  States. 

47.  On  the  relations  between  Punin  and  Tatlin,  see  I.  Punina, 
"N.  Punin.  Kvartira  No.  5,"  Panorama  iskusstv  12  (1989), 

pp.  162-98. 

48.  P.  Sorokin,  "Otpravliaias1  v  dorogu,"  Utrenniki  1  (1922), 
p.  11. 

49.  Viktor  Shklovskii  appealed:  "In  the  name  of  agitation, 
remove  agitation  from  art,"  in  his  Khod  konia.  Sbornik  statei 
(Moscow  and  Berlin:  Gelikon,  1923),  p.  45. 

50.  These  are  the  words  of  A.  Skachko,  one  of  the  most 
prominent  cultural  officials  of  the  period,  in  Vestnik  iskusstv  5 
(1922),  pp.  2-3. 

51.  The  monuments  erected  were  chiefly  of  a  traditional  variety, 
with  little  that  was  innovative  about  them.  Although  the 
"Anketa  profsoiuza  skul'pturov-khudozhnikov" 
("Questionnaire  of  the  Professional  Union  of  Sculptors")  did 
attempt  to  draw  attention  to  contemporary  forms:  "Does  the 
monument  meet  the  requirements  of  plastic  culture?  Does  it 
express  the  law  of  the  deformation  of  forms?" 

52.  Quoted  from  a  document  in  the  Izo  Narkompros  archives. 

53.  See  A.  Strigalev,  "O  proekte  pamiatnika  III  Internatsionala 
khudozhnika  V  Tatlina,"  in  Voprosy  sovetskogo  iskusstva  1 
arkhitektury  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1973),  pp.  408-52. 

54.  N.  Radlov,  0  futurizme  (St.  Petersburg:  "Akvilon,"  1923), 
p.  48. 

55.  K.  Miklashevskii,  Gtpertrofiia  iskusstva  (Petrograd,  1924), 
P-  59- 

56.  Typescripts  of  Tatlin's  theses  and  some  of  the  other  articles 
prepared  for  the  journal  are  held  in  both  state  and  private 
archives  in  Russia. 

57.  The  discussion  is  mentioned  in  N.  Khardzhiev,  "Pervyi 
illiustrator  Maiakovskogo.  K  90-letiiu  so  dnia  rozhdeniia 


V.  Tatlina,"  Moskovskii  kbudozhnik,  December  18,  1975.  Since 
Maiakovskii — who  was  present — returned  from  Petrograd  on 
December  nth  and  appeared  at  the  Polytechnic  Museum  on 
the  12th,  the  discussion  evidently  took  place  on  December  13th. 

58.  Petrogradskaia  Pravda,  December  1920,  quoted  from  an 
undated  newspaper  clipping  in  the  collection  of  A.  Korsakova, 

59.  V.  Veidle,  "Iskusstvo  pri  sovetskoi  vlasti,"  in  Mosty.  Sbornik 
statei  k  50-letiiu  russkoi  revoliutsii  (Munich:  Tovarishchestvo 
zarubezhnykh  pisatelei,  1967),  p.  44. 

60.  Ibid.,  p.  38. 

61.  Such  a  resolution  was  passed,  for  instance,  at  a  meeting  of 
Unovis  in  Petrograd  on  October  14,  1922. 

62.  See,  for  example,  Il'ia  Chashnik  and  Nikolai  Suetin,  letter 
to  Kazimir  Malevich,  October  4,  1924,  published  in 
Snprematismus  (Zurich:  Galerie  Schlegl,  1989),  pp.  50-51. 

63.  I.  Vrona,  "O  Tatline,"  1967,  private  archive. 

64.  Tatlin  considered  Aleksei  Sotnikov  exceptional  among  his 
students  in  Moscow,  and  Moris  Umanskii  and  Iakov  Shtoffer 
among  those  in  Kiev. 

65.  Central  State  Archive  for  Literature  and  Art,  Moscow, 
f.  680,  op.  3,  ed.  khr.  208,  1.  238. 

66.  Quoted  from  a  biographical  note  written  by  Tatlin  in  1929, 
published  in  Tatlin  (Weingarten:  Kunstverlag  Weingarten, 
1987),  p.  328. 

67.  Production  art  is  widely  discussed  in  the  publications  of 
VNIITE,  Moscow,  in  the  1970s.  For  a  different  view,  see 

A.  Mazaeva,  Kontseptsiia  "proizvodstvennogo  iskusstva"  20-kb  godov 
(Moscow:  Nauka,  1975). 

68.  On  Obmokhu,  see  Aleksandra  Shatskikh,  "A  Brief  History 
of  Obmokhu"  and  Christina  Lodder,  "The  Transition  to 
Constructivism,"  and  on  the  Electroorganism  group,  Irina 
Lebedeva,  "The  Poetry  of  Science:  Projectionism  and 
Electroorganism,"  in  this  volume. 

69.  Constructivism  began  in  approximately  1920,  with  the 
activities  of  the  group  for  "mass  action"  whose  members 
included  both  Aleksei  Gan  and  Rodchenko. 

70.  Aleksei  Gan's  typographical  layout  of  Sovremennaia 
arkhitektura  {Contemporary  Architecture) — the  journal  of 
Constructivism  in  architecture — is  one  example. 

71.  In  an  effort  to  reconcile  abstraction  and  production  art, 
Boris  Kushner  advanced  the  term  bespredmetnaia 
kbi/dozhestvennaia  kul'tura  (non-objective  artistic  culture)  in  a 
lecture  at  the  House  of  Publishing,  Moscow,  on  March  20, 

72.  Tatlin's  text  in  the  catalogue  for  the  exhibition  of  his 
Letatlin  sketches  at  the  Museum  of  Fine  Arts  (Moscow,  1932)  is 
particularly  contentious  vis-a-vis  the  Moscow  Constructivists. 

73.  E.  Kronman,  "Ukhod  v  tekhniku.  Tatlin  1  'Letatlin,'" 
Brigada  khudozhnikov  6  (1932),  pp.  19-23. 

74.  Quoted  in  A.  Efros,  Mastera  raznykh  epokh  (Moscow: 
Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1979),  p.  547. 

75.  Letatlin  was  described  as  "not  so  much  ...  an  invention 
as  ...  a  sui-generis  work  of  art"  in  N.  Frausek,  "Iskusstvo  v 
tekhniku,"  Tekhnika,  April  9,  1932,  p.  4. 

76.  K.  Zelinskii,  "Letatlin,"  Vecherniaia  Moskva,  April  6,  1932, 
p.  2. 

77.  M.  Levidov,  Prostye  istiny.  0  chitatele  i  pisatele  (Moscow  and 
Leningrad,  1927),  pp.  154-55. 

78.  A.  Voegeli,  Sowiet-Russland (Bern:  Verlag  Hans  Huber, 
1936),  Tafel  3. 

79.  Nikolai  Suetin,  letter  to  Anna  Leporskaia,  1937,  Collection 
N.  N.  Suetina,  St.  Petersburg. 

80.  Rozhdestvenskii  Archive,  Moscow. 


MAPCOBO    no/IE,  JSTs  7. 




COCTaB'b   yHaCTHMKOB"b-llHi'TllBi;il   „TpaMBaH    B", 

50     hmctcim    npM6biJiii    bt»    noiib3y    Jla3apeTa 
fl-BHTeiieii  McKyccTBa. 

BEPHMCCAHf  "b— 19-ro  fleif  a6pn,  urn  I  pjk 

OTKPblTIE- 20-ro  fle^aipn,  man  SO  ran. 

Btd  A©Hb  BepHHeeajKa  BbieTaBKa  oTKpbiTa  ct> 

4  nae.  flHfl  ao  8  nae.  Ben. 

Btd  jjeHb  OTKpbiTia  h  nponie  jihh  e^  10  H.  ao  5  ^ 

Ihti'""'!  warn  ui*  pi  ni'|)Oiirni;i;;i  I  p.  Ill,  pb  nTK|ii,i'riii  50  R,  upo'iie  .tun  50  mm.,  j'lamiwi  30 
Tpan/isaii:    NkNs  I,  2,  3,  12,  15,  22. 

fig.  i 

Ivan  Puni 

Poster,  The  Last  Futurist 
Exhibition,  191$. 
Lithograph,  74  x  55.5  cm. 
Private  collection,  Zurich. 



The  Critical  Reception 
of  the  0. 10  Exhibition: 
Malevich  and  Benua 

Jane  A.  Sharp 

The  prominent  St.  Petersburg  critic  Aleksandr  Benua  (also 
known  as  Alexandre  Benois)  begins  his  review  of  the 
exhibition  (Petrograd,  1915-16)  and  of  Kazimir  Malevich's 
latest  innovation — Suprematism — with  the  admission  that  he 
is  not  in  a  position  to  judge  vanguard  art,  that  it  is  "absolutely 
foreign  to  me."  And  in  a  self-reflexive  passage  of  the  text  he 
explains  why:  "But  what  I  see  at  the  exhibitions  of  our  'ultra- 
Modernists,  as  such'  simply  leaves  me  cold  and  indifferent.  I  do 
not  sense  the  'spirit  of  art'  and  I  just  become  bored  at  them.  In 
this  [reaction]  a  certain  psychologizing  manifests  itself:  I 
become  interested  not  in  what  I  see  but  in  the  reasons  why  it 
leaves  me  cold.  My  psychologizing  is  confused  and  full  of 
contradictions,  bringing  forth  ever  renewed  floods  of  fatigue 
and,  again,  boredom."1 

But  these  first  observations  are  deceptive;  Benua's  topos  in 
fact  calls  attention  to  the  immense  significance  of  Malevich's 
inauguration  of  Suprematism.  Above  all,  the  review  is 
apocalyptical.  Benua  articulates  his  response  to  Suprematism  in 
terms  of  the  horror  of  the  unknown  as  well  as  in  terms  of  a 
certain  horror  of  uniformity — the  possibility  of  endless 
repetitions  of  faceless,  figureless  canvases.  For  Benua,  the  0.10 
exhibition  was  not  simply  the  "last  Futurist  exhibition"  (as  the 
show  was  subtitled);  it  represented  the  end  of  painting 
altogether  and  not  the  beginning  of  a  new  "national  style." 
Moreover,  Benua  did  not  interpret  the  Chernyi  kvadrat  {Black 
Square,  1915,  fig.  no.  2)  as  a  sign  of  radical  social  engagement  or 
epatement  as  he  did  earlier  vanguard  work.  Instead,  he  describes 
the  Black  Square  as  a  tabula  rasa,  a  "complete  zero"  that  has 
made  representation  (as  a  response  to  the  natural  world) 
irrelevant  to  a  completely  decadent  "indifferent"  society.  The 
review  proclaims  a  watershed  moment  in  the  vanguard  artist's 
challenge  to  and  absorption  into  the  status  quo:  the 
"boorishness"  and  "Americanization"  of  Russian  society 
predicted  by  Benua  (and  by  Dmitrii  Merezhkovskii  in  an 
earlier  review)  has  in  fact  been  achieved,  and  no  one  has 

This  reaction  has  its  reverse  parallel  in  a  number  of 
comments  by  vanguard  artists  and  critics  after  the  Revolution 
when  the  Black  Square  came  to  represent  the  very  face  of  the 
ongoing  revolution  and  the  new  society  that  it  sought  to 
create.  Like  the  earliest  theorists  of  the  European  avant-garde 
in  the  mid-nineteenth  century,  El  Lissitzky  understood  and 
valued  the  dynamic  power  of  the  radically  new  in  art  to  predict 
or  even  effect  radical  political  and  social  change.'  In  his  essay  of 
1920,  "Suprematism  in  World  Reconstruction,"  Lissitzky 
presents  his  view  of  the  Black  Square  as  the  harbinger  of  a  new 
cosmic  era:  "for  us  suprematism  did  not  signify  the 
recognition  of  an  absolute  form  which  was  part  of  an  already- 
completed  universal  system,  on  the  contrary  here  stood 
revealed  for  the  first  time  in  all  its  purity  the  clear  sign  and 
plan  for  a  definite  new  world  never  before  experienced — a 
world  which  issues  forth  from  our  inner  being  and  which  is 
only  now  in  the  first  stages  of  its  formation,  for  this  reason  the 
square  of  suprematism  became  a  beacon."4  Following  the 
Revolution,  Lissitzky  cast  the  aims  of  Suprematism  in  political 
terms  by  counterpointing  parallel  descriptions  of  the  successive 
upheavals  brought  about  through  art  and  Bolshevik 
Communism:  "into  this  chaos  came  suprematism  extolling  the 
square  as  the  very  source  of  all  creative  expression,  and  then 
came  communism  and  extolled  work  as  the  true  source  of 
man's  heartbeat."* 

Landmarks  in  the  periodical  criticism  of  the  times  (such  as 
Benua's  review  of  0.10)  reveal  that  the  alliance  forged  between 
stylistic  innovation  and  radical  social  politics  which  we  ascribe 
to  the  revolutionary  era  was  grounded  in  earlier  perceptions  of 
avant-garde  art.  Benua's  response  to  Suprematism  as  the 
herald/revealer  of  social  and  aesthetic  cataclysm  shows  how  the 


reception  of  avant-garde  art  before  the  Revolution  determined 
the  artist's  paradoxical  status  as  a  "leftist"  wielding 
considerable  authority  after  the  Revolution.  In  order  better  to 
understand  this  condition,  we  must  recognize  first  that  both 
left  artists  and  leftist  politicians  drew  their  authority  in  the 
new  society  from  the  radical  contexts  of  their  prerevolutionary 

Malevich  was  sufficiently  disturbed  by  Benua's  review  to 
write  an  angry  reply,  which  he  intended  to  have  published  in  a 
daily  newspaper  but  instead  sent  directly  to  the  critic  himself.6 
In  the  letter,  Malevich  reproaches  Benua  for  dominating  a 
system  that  has  exhausted  itself  and  survives  only  to  impede 
the  new.  But  his  response  is  more  than  a  complaint  lodged 
against  the  status  quo.  In  language  that  abounds  with  social 
and  political  metaphor,  the  letter  threateningly  predicts  the 
system's  violent  demise:  "You  have  deprived  the  academy  and 
museum  of  any  real  significance.  You  have  made  them  strictly 
partisan  exhibitions  and  thus  a  tool,  the  casemate  of  a  prison,  a 
restraint  on  freedom  of  thought.  You  have  set  up  your 
commonplace  cliches  there  and  built  up  a  reputation  for  them; 
and  the  work  of  anyone  that  follows  your  pattern  faithfully  can 
hang  alongside  yours  in  your  exhibitions  .  .  .  You  have  all  the 
tools  to  erase  everything  that  is  not  made  in  your  image,  but 
canvas  is  strong  and  the  garret  serves  as  the  boor's  gallery  and 
museum.  Your  grandchildren  will  get  the  canvases  out  from 
there  and  will  wring  the  neck  of  your  system."7 

Of  course,  a  little  over  a  year  later,  with  the  October 
Revolution,  the  system  that  Benua  represented  for  Malevich 
would  be  overthrown  and,  by  1920,  with  the  inception  of 
Unovis  (the  Affirmers  of  the  New  Art)  in  Vitebsk,  Malevich's 
own  collective  "system"  would  be  installed.  His  program,  like 
the  statutes  designed  by  a  number  of  artists  in  the  years  of  War 
Communism,  functioned  as  a  critique  of  the  Imperial  academic 
system  by  replacing  its  teacher/student  hierarchy  with  a 
collective  workshop  structure.  The  significance  of  this 
inversion  of  social  hierarchy  and  its  synecdochical  relation  to 
the  birth  of  Suprematism  was  articulated  even  before  the 
formal  transformation  of  the  Vitebsk  Popular  Art  School  into 
Unovis.  The  cover  of  Malevich's  pamphlet  0  novykh  sistemakb  v 
iskusstve  {On  New  Systems  in  Art)  collapses  the  primary 
geometric  forms  of  Suprematism  and  the  admonition  that  "the 
overturning  of  the  old  world  of  arts  will  be  etched  across  your 
palms"  (recto);  the  notice  on  the  verso  reads  "Work  and  edition 
by  the  workshop  [artef]  of  artistic  labor  at  the  Vitebsk  Svomas" 
(fig.  no.  3).8 

This  attack  and  counterattack  between  critic  and  artist 
epitomizes  communication  before  the  Revolution  between 
vanguard  artists  of  Malevich's  generation  and  their  critics.  The 
exchange  manifests  the  contradiction  inherent  in  the 
vanguard's  position  as  a  movement  of  opposition  to  a  dominant 
social  structure  and  aesthetic  system  which  it  essentially  seeks 
to  replace.  Similarly,  Benua's  discussion  of  Malevich's  work, 
like  his  evaluation  of  other  vanguard  artists,  particularly 
Natal'ia  Goncharova  and  David  Burliuk,  is  at  once  an  extended 
critique  and  a  measure  of  the  avant-garde's  impact  on 
prerevolutionary  Russian  society.  Although  Benua  would 
periodically  claim  he  was  bored  by  the  vanguard  artist's 
posturing,  a  summary  reading  of  his  reviews  of  any  number  of 
avant-garde  exhibitions  before  the  Revolution  would  lead  us  to 
attribute  to  him  any  reaction  but  ennui.  Indeed,  Benua  was 
extremely  vocal  in  his  hostility  to  Russia's  fledgling  vanguard. 
A  prominent  artist  himself,  cofounder  of  the  journal  Mir 
iskusstva  {World  of  Art)  in  1898,  and  an  art  historian,  Benua 
became  in  1908  the  chief  art  critic  of  the  daily  St.  Petersburg 
newspaper  Rech' {Speech),  which  published  each  month  his 
reviews  of  artistic  and  theatrical  events.  He  was  the  among  the 
first  critics  to  isolate  and  describe  the  new  Primitivism 

manifested  in  vanguard  exhibitions  beginning  with  the 
Golubaia  roza  (Blue  Rose)  exhibition  of  1907.''  In  1912  he  wrote 
a  blistering  critique  of  avant-garde  polemics,  "Kubizm  ili 
kukishizm"  ("Cubism  or  Je-m'en-foutisme"),  which  focused  on 
the  interpretations  of  French  Cubism  by  David  Burliuk  and 
other  artists.10  He  may  be  credited  as  one  of  the  critics  who 
defined  and  named  the  avant-garde,  using  the  terms  peredovaia 
molodezh '  (vanguard  youth),  levye  (leftists),  and  futuristy 
(Futurists)  somewhat  indiscriminately  in  referring  to  the  artists 
of  Petersburg  and  Moscow  who  formed  the  groups  Soiuz 
molodezhi  (Union  of  Youth),  Bubnovyi  valet  (Jack  of 
Diamonds),  and  Oslinyi  khvost  (Donkey's  Tail).  (In  his  review 
of  the  0.10  exhibition,  he  would  describe  Malevich's  group  as 
the  krainii  levyi  flang  [extreme  left  flank]  of  the  art  world.) 
Together  with  Iakov  Tugendkhol'd,  Sergei  Makovskii,  and 
Maksimilian  Voloshin,  all  contributors  to  major  newspapers  as 
well  as  to  the  influential  art  journal  Apollon  {Apollo),  he  was  a 
powerful  arbiter  of  taste  among  the  art-going  (and  art-buying) 
public;  as  Malevich  would  claim  with  good  reason  a  few  years 
later,  "without  the  stamp  of  Benua  and  his  associates,  no  work 
of  art  could  receive  civil  rights  and  life's  benefits.""  Malevich 
continued  by  listing  the  names  of  artists  who  had  both  suffered 
from  and  profited  by  the  attention  of  Benua  and  his  colleagues: 
"This  was  the  case  with  Vrubel,  Musatov,  P.  Kuznetsov  and 
Goncharova,  whom  they  finally  recognized  after  throwing  mud 
at  them  for  a  long  time;  but  how  many  have  still  not  been 
acknowledged!"12  Malevich's  response,  in  other  words, 
recognizes  that  the  critics  (Benua  in  particular)  who  so 
successfully  dominated  and  controlled  the  art  market  played  a 
primary  role  in  defining  the  avant-garde  as  a  marginal,  radical 

Benua's  antipathy  to  avant-garde  art  appears  to  have  peaked 
earlier,  in  1912,  with  his  cutting  reviews  of  the  Union  of  Youth 
exhibitions  which  took  place  in  St.  Petersburg  and  included 
members  of  the  Moscow  avant-garde  as  well."  His  criticisms  of 
vanguard  art  typically  center  on  the  Russian  artist's  accursed 
proclivity  for  assimilating  external  influences.  In  Benua's  view, 
Russian  art  is  so  assimilative  that  its  history  and  the  vanguard's 
place  in  this  history  must  be  characterized  as  nonevolutionary. 
Vanguard  innovations  in  style  do  not  point  toward  a 
movement  laying  the  basis  for  a  new  school  or  "national  style"; 
rather  they  appear  as  "nothing  else  but  equilibristic  stunts, 
somersaulting  in  the  air."  Benua  situates  this  observation, 
however,  in  the  context  of  Russian  society.  Deprived  of  social 
support  (a  stable,  informed  audience),  contemporary  art 
appears  to  be  "arbitrary"  and  "impermanent" — it  can  only 
reflect  the  current  fashion  or  trend.  He  argues  that  despite  the 
remarkable  talents  involved,  vanguard  artists  share  a  common 
trait:  they  produce  "hurried,  unthought-through  work — 
shoddy  goods  [desbevka].  This  is  the  absence  of  what  is  called  a 
school."'4  Although  this  attack  was  leveled  at  the  vanguard 
youth  in  general,  in  his  review  of  Malevich's  Suprematist  work 
Benua  uses  similar  metaphors:  "And  this  is  not  merely  the 
hoarse  cry  of  the  carnival  barker  [zazyval'sbcbik]  but  the  main 
'trick'  in  the  puppet  show  [v  balagancbike]  of  the  very  last  word 
in  culture."'5 

By  the  end  of  1913,  however,  with  the  opening  of 
Goncharova 's  mammoth  solo  exhibition  in  Moscow,  Benua 
seemed  to  have  reconciled  his  wholly  negative  view  of 
vanguard  culture  with  a  new  appreciation  of  the  expressive 
power  of  Primitivism  and  even  of  Cubo-Futurism  in  Russian 
art.  His  comments  on  this  occasion  reflect  his  broader  anxiety 
over  the  "difficulties"  inherent  in  reading  vanguard  art, 
prefiguring  his  critique  of  Malevich  in  1916.  In  this  respect, 
Benua's  review  remains  an  important  record  of  the  process  of 
public  and  critical  acceptance  that  this  exhibition  initiated  for 
Goncharova's  work  and  for  vanguard  art  generally.  Like  his 


fig.  2 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Black  Square,  ipi<>. 

Oil  on  canvas,  79.5  x  79.5  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 

fig-  3 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Cover  for  his  On  New  Systems  in  Art,  ipip. 

Lithograph,  23  x  37.2  cm. 

Collection  of  Prints  and  Drawings, 

The  Federal  Institute  of  Technology,  Zurich. 

»'HWCnP0t     .rtKlECTftPOrO   MHPA 

0  H08MCTO 

mow    R   M3MHKIE  APTEAK 





critique  of  Malevich's  work,  this  earlier  review  is  unusually 
self- reflexive;  it  mediates  between  references  to  his  previously 
negative  evaluation  of  Goncharova's  work  and  soul-searching 
examinations  of  the  reasons  for  his  present  capitulation: 

/  went  again  to  Goncharova's  exhibition  in  part  to  test  my  first 
impression,  in  part  simply  to  delight  in  it.  It  turns  out  I  had  not  gone 
astray  the  first  time,  I  was  not  mistaken.  On  the  contrary,  today  I 
sensed  even  more  clearly  that  this  is  a  great  talent  and  a  true  artist. 
Generally  speaking,  I  believed  her  even  more,  and  consequently  I  may 
change  completely  my  whole  attitude  toward  the  kind  of  painting 
which  she  represents  .  .  .  I  saw  at  this  exhibition  many  old  familiar 
paintings  which  were  in  our  {World  of  Art)  and  other  exhibitions.  It 
means  a  great  deal  to  see  them  now  within  the  artist's  whole  oeuvre. 
Their  "talent"  was  always  clear  to  me  and  I  got  into  many  arguments 
with  close  friends  over  this.  But  I  did  not  completely  "believe  in  them. " 
Much  of  her  art  seemed  a  pose  to  me,  a  distortion  and  youthful  joke. 
Now  I  am  ready  to  believe  in  the  complete  sincerity  of  a  master  and  at 
the  same  time  it  is  absolutely  clear  to  me  that  it  is  not  Goncharova  who 
needs  to  learn  but  we  who  must  learn  from  her,  as  it  always  follows 
that  one  should  learn  from  all  the  great  and  strong.  No,  this  is  not 
ugliness  or  distortion  but  the  very  opposite:  the  intention  (accomplished) 
to  become  perfectly  connected  with  oneself,  to  express  in  the  simplest  way 
that  which  is  hidden  in  the  soul  and  bursts  to  the  surface. ,6 

Paradoxically,  it  is  now  Benua  who  comes  to  the  vanguard 
artist's  defense,  countering  Goncharova's  detractors  by  arguing 
that  much  of  her  work,  especially  her  earliest  paintings  and 
pastels,  is  "completely  'acceptable,'  accessible  to  the 
comprehension  of  those  who  have  only  an  amateurish  interest 
in  art." 

Benua's  acceptance  of  Goncharova's  work,  however,  like  his 
acceptance  of  the  new  trends  it  represents,  does  not  read  as  a 
step  toward  the  commodification  of  a  previously  "militant" 
artistic  message.'7  Rather,  it  is  a  disruptive,  continuously 
equivocal  process  for  him  that  requires  a  complete  reevaluation 
of  the  whole  vanguard  tradition  which  he  had  dismissed  just 
the  year  before  in  his  essay  "Cubism  or  Je-m'en-foutisme" : 

As  with  my  experience  last  year  in  Sergei  Ivanovich  Shchukin's 
gallery,  I  lived  through  a  lot  in  the  past  two  days  at  Goncharova's 
exhibition.  Now  I  can  no  longer  consider  as  heresy  even  the  most 
extreme  dislocations  /"sdvigi/,  that  nightmarish  abracadabra  that  has 
issued  from  Picasso  and  has  infested  all  of  the  vanguard  youth,  here 
and  in  the  West.  These  pictures  still  disturb  me,  yet  I  now  clearly  feel 
that  they  exist  within  the  realm  of  art. 

Benua's  lengthy  discussion  of  Goncharova's  work  registers 
in  actuality  what  Viktor  Shklovskii  later  defined  as  an  aim  of 
ostranenie  (making  strange)  in  literature — the  deliberate 
impeding  of  the  viewer's  perception.'"  Developing  his  new 
insights  into  the  pictorial  forms  of  Cubism  and  Futurism, 
Benua  describes  his  response  to  a  roomful  of  Goncharova's 
latest  and  most  trying  Futurist  works,  her  urban  machine  and 
factory  images: 

In  accordance  with  the  new  formulae  of  painting:  objects  are 
depicted  as  precisely  fragmented  and  incorrectly  reconstituted  colors, 
terrify ingly  "raw";  through  forms,  which  only  with  great  difficulty 
are  identifiable  with  forms  in  reality,  some  sort  of  "  half -spoken"  signs 
pass  by.  One  has  to  look  at  the  painting,  and  involuntarily  read  what 
is  said  there.  One's  attention  is  intensified — even  more  than  that,  it  is 
tormented.  Looking  at  such  pictures  requires  suffering. 

Benua's  appreciation  of  his  dilemma  is  contingent  upon 
recognizing  in  Goncharova's  language  and  subject  matter  signs 
of  the  modern  age,  which  he,  like  so  many  artists  of  his 

generation,  transposes  into  an  apocalyptic  vision  of  the  future. 
In  this  context,  the  vanguard  artist  appears  as  a  clairvoyant  of 
the  encroaching  industrial  era — the  machine  its  new  god. 
Benua  ultimately  finds  positive  value  in  Goncharova's  work, 
which  he  now  interprets  as  a  messianic  expression  of  the 
impending  battle  with  the  "philistinism"  and  "American 
devilry"  associated  with  developed  capitalism  in  Russia.  He 
concludes  that  this  trend  can  only  be  overcome  or  reversed  by 
"looking  for  the  revelation  of  God  in  everything,  turning  away 
from  superficial  stagnation  and  [instead]  constantly 
penetrating  into  the  essence  of  things."  The  difficulty  in 
reading  the  image  has  the  effect  of  slowing  down  perception, 
allowing  the  viewer  to  contemplate  the  relationship  of  the 
fragmented  forms  to  his  or  her  life  experience.  For  Benua,  who 
finds  a  direct  correspondence  between  the  faktura  (density)  of 
Goncharova's  canvases  and  real  perceptual  phenomena,  her  art 
becomes  the  "sincere"  and  "honest"  reflection  of  a  world  in 
turmoil.  Thus,  Benua  assures  his  readers  that  the  "suffering" 
experienced  in  viewing  Goncharova's  work  is  essentially 
beneficial,  even  redemptive. 

Two  years  later,  in  his  review  of  the  exhibition,  Benua 
reversed  this  position.  Malevich's  Black  Square  cannot  redeem 
society — it  is  the  icon  of  a  cardinal  sin:  humankind's  arrogant 
elevation  of  the  self  (and  the  machine)  above  nature  and  God — 
the  Black  Square  is  blasphemy.  Benua  expresses  this  view  in  no 
uncertain  terms,  repeating  the  words  koshchunstvo  (blasphemy) 
and  koshchunstvovat' (to  blaspheme).  It  is  clear  that,  with  the 
advent  of  the  exhibition,  Benua  shifted  his  critique  of 
vanguard  art  from  accusations  of  epigonism  and  eclecticism  to 
the  hostile  recognition  that  with  Suprematism  Malevich  had 
truly  advanced  a  coherent  new  style  in  painting. 

In  order  to  understand  Benua's  extreme  reaction  to  the  first 
presentation  of  Suprematism,  we  must  examine  his  quasi- 
religious,  quasi-social/political  rhetoric  in  more  detail.  Benua's 
critique  focuses  on  the  way  in  which  the  Black  Square  was  hung 
in  the  exhibition:  "high  above,  right  under  the  ceiling,  in  the 
'holy  place'" — in  the  traditional  place  of  the  icon  (fig.  no.  4). 
Because  of  Malevich's  choice  in  hanging  the  painting,  the 
Black  Square  does  not  merely  constitute  an  analogue  to  the  icon 
and  thereby  acquire  similar  authority  as  an  image;  the  Black 
Square  actually  replaces  the  icon.  By  usurping  the  seat  of  the 
icon,  the  Black  Square  diagrams  the  destruction  of  one  set  of 
values  and  the  installation  of  a  new  hierarchy — the  dominion 
of  forms  over  nature.  Benua  explains:  "Without  a  doubt,  this  is 
the  'icon'  which  the  Futurists  propose  as  a  replacement  for  the 
Madonnas  and  shameless  Venuses  [besstyzhie  venery],  it  is  that 
'dominion'  [gospodstvo]  of  forms  over  nature."  Malevich's 
system  signals  the  encroachment  of  an  insidious  rationalistic 
logic  into  the  realm  of  aesthetic  experience,  at  the  base  of 
which  lies  a  "horrific  means  of  mechanical  'renewal' 
[mekhanicheskoe  'vosstanovlenie']  with  its  machinishness."  This 
act  of  blasphemy  even  penetrates  Benua's  description  of  the 
Black  Square:  it  is  a  "Black  Square  in  a  white  frame"  (here 
Benua  uses  the  term  that  denotes  the  setting  of  the  icon — 
v  belom  oklade — to  describe  the  frame).  His  language  clearly 
indicates  a  refusal  to  acknowledge  the  evolution  of  Malevich's 
art;  his  concern  to  expose  Malevich's  blasphemous  act  prevents 
him  from  taking  any  notice  of  Suprematism's  own  dependence 
upon  the  icon  (a  source  for  Malevich's  Primitivism  of  circa 

Thus,  he  claims  that  the  Black  Square  issues  from  and  serves 
only  to  illustrate  Malevich's  "sermon  of  zero  and  death,"  his 
statement  (nearly  identical  to  the  first  paragraphs  of  Ot  kubizma 
k  suprematizmu  [From  Cubism  to  Suprematism})  published  in  a 
leaflet  which  was  distributed  free  at  the  exhibition."'  In  Benua's 
view,  Malevich's  claim  to  authority,  to  "dominion"  or 
"supremacy"  (whence  the  term  Suprematism  is  derived),  is 


fig- 4 

View  of  the  exhibition  showing  Malevich's  Black  Square  in  the 

"icon 's  place, "  center  top. 


ahistorical,  for  it  is  achieved  only  through  pride,  by  self- 
assertion.  The  point  and  purpose  of  his  essay — to  demonstrate 
the  destructive  force  of  Malevich's  blasphemous  act — are 
achieved  through  references  to  a  chief  biblical  sin,  that  of 
vainglory:  "[This]  is  not  a  chance  little  episode  that  occurred 
on  the  Field  of  Mars;  it  is  one  of  the  acts  of  self-affirmation  the 
source  of  which  has  as  its  name  the  abomination  of  desolation. 
It  asserts  itself  through  arrogance,  haughtiness,  and  by 
trampling  over  all  that  is  dear  and  tender;  it  will  lead  only  to 
death."20  Text  and  review  combined,  this  is  an  account  of 
"absolute  origins"2'  that  has  no  equivalent  in  Russia's  past 
cultural  experience.  The  force  of  the  disruption  that  the  advent 
of  Suprematism  hailed  is  mirrored  in  the  passion  of  both  the 
artist's  and  the  critic's  language. 

A  year  later,  in  his  review  of  the  Sovremennaia  zhivopis' 
{Contemporary  Painting)  exhibition  held  at  Nadezhda 
Dobychina's  gallery  (where  the  exhibition  had  also  been 
held),  Benua  continues  his  attack  on  the  ahistoricity  of 
Suprematism,  asserting  that  Malevich's  "little  circles,  squares, 
and  sticks  have  only  given  birth  to  Aleksandra  Ekster's 
exercises."22  Benua's  review  is  a  willful  misstatement,  since  we 
know  that  within  the  year  (1916-17)  a  number  of  artists — 
including  Nadezhda  Udal'tsova,  Ivan  Puni,  Liubov'  Popova, 
Ol'ga  Rozanova,  Ivan  Kliun,  and  Mikhail  Men'kov,  among 
others — had  adopted  Suprematism  as  their  own  and  formed  the 
group  known  briefly  as  Supremus.2'  Benua's  purpose,  however, 
is  consistent  with  his  long-standing  commitment  to  exposing 
the  commercial  self-interest  and  "trickery"  of  avant-garde  art. 

Malevich's  written  response  is  a  protracted  attack  on 
Benua's  system,  his  authority,  and  the  value  which  he  attaches 
to  mimesis.  (Indeed,  most  vanguard  critiques  of  the  art 
establishment  link  mimesis  with  the  power  obtained  by 
specific  artists  and  critics  in  the  academy  and  press.)  In  the  first 
section  of  the  letter,  Malevich  counters  Benua's  argument  by 
asserting  that  mimetic  representation,  based  on  the  canons  of 
Roman  and  Greek  art,  has  long  ceased  to  have  any  value  for 
society.  Furthermore,  he  claims  that  critics  like  Benua  and 
Merezhkovskii  have  failed  to  see  the  future  in  the  new;  instead, 
he  writes,  "Merezhkovsky  stands  on  the  new  age's  square 
amidst  the  furious  vortex  of  machines  both  on  earth  and  in  the 
sky;  he  stares  with  blind  eyes  and  continues  to  hold  Caesar's 
bone  above  his  gray  head  and  to  shout  about  beauty."24 
Contesting  Benua's  argument  that  Suprematism  is  ultimately 
destructive,  he  asks,  "but  how  has  the  World  of  Art  enriched 
our  own  times?"  and  responds  with  a  parodistic  description  of 
Benua's  own  painting:  "He  has  given  us  a  couple  of  crinoline 
petticoats  and  a  few  uniforms  from  the  time  of  Peter  the 
Great."  Similarly,  he  matches  Benua's  biblical  rhetoric  with  his 
own.  His  account  of  the  difficulties  the  avant-garde  artist  faces 
in  countering  Benua's  system  of  "commonplace  cliches,"  which 
dominates  by  entrapping  unsuspecting  young  artists  desperate 
to  exhibit  and  attain  fame,  is  a  cri  de  foi  far  more  eloquent  than 
his  manifesto,  From  Cubism  to  Suprematism: 

I  possess  only  a  single  bare,  frameless  icon  of  our  times  (like  a 
pocket),  and  it  is  difficult  to  struggle. 

But  my  happiness  in  not  being  like  you  will  give  me  the  strength  to 
go  further  and  further  into  the  empty  wilderness.  For  it  is  only  there 
that  transformation  can  take  place. 

And  I  think  you  are  mistaken  when  you  say  in  reproaching  me 
that  my  philosophy  will  destroy  millions  of  lives.  Are  you  not,  all  of 
you,  like  a  roaring  blaze  that  obstructs  and  prevents  any  forward 

Malevich's  statement  engages  one  of  the  principal  motifs  in 
Benua's  review,  that  of  the  vanguard  artist  as  social  outcast. 
Extending  his  metaphor  of  the  carnival  barker,  Benua  makes  an 

analogy  between  the  cries  of  the  barkers  on  the  streets  of 
Petrograd  and  the  vanguard's  claim  for  legitimation  in  Russian 
culture.  He  writes:  "You  see  that  they  are  artists,  that  they 
have  the  right  to  a  critical  evaluation.  And  yet  everything  that 
they  say  and  do  rings  out  with  such  cries  of  poverty  that  pity, 
which  had  been  verging  on  respect,  yields  to  some  kind  of 
internal  panic,  and  one  wants  to  run  away  in  any  direction 
(even  to  the  lackey-like  Petrograd  artists)  without  looking 
back,  only  so  that  one  might  no  longer  see  those  shapes  bent 
by  the  bitter  cold,  those  painted  faces,  or  hear  those  horrible 
cracking  voices."26 

Malevich's  dialogue  with  Benua  essentially  confirms 
Benua's  analogy — that  the  vanguard  artist  acts  out  in  the 
world  of  art  the  experiences  of  the  unenfranchised,  the  true 
outcasts  in  society.  This  analogy  explains,  in  part,  the  passion 
of  Malevich's  response  to  Benua — clearly  more  was  at  stake  in 
his  inauguration  of  Suprematism  than  the  advancement  of  a 
new  "style."  Malevich's  battle  was  one  of  empowerment  and 
entitlement  in  a  society  which  viewed  art,  politics,  and 
morality  as  essentially  and  implicitly  integrated. 

It  is  ironic  that  Benua  failed  to  appreciate  the  historical 
evolution  of  Malevich's  work.  For  there  is  every  indication  that 
Malevich,  more  than  any  other  vanguard  artist  of  his 
generation  (with  the  possible  exception  of  Mikhail  Larionov), 
sought  to  promote  a  historical  context  for  the  inauguration  of 
his  movement  that  would  validate  his  claim  for  recognition.  If 
Malevich  asserted  that  "the  face  of  my  Square  cannot  become 
merged  with  a  single  master  or  age,"  he  also  affirmed, 
practically  in  the  same  breath,  that  "I,  too,  am  a  stage  of 
development."2"  This  statement  sets  forth  the  paradox 
embodied  in  the  avant-garde  artist's  position,  overlaying  the 
values  Malevich  clearly  attached  to  historical  views  of  his  own 
artistic  evolution  (and  the  possibility  of  engendering  a 
"school")  with  his  desire  to  create  a  style  that  was  absolutely 
unfamiliar  to  his  contemporaries. 

Malevich's  statement  epitomizes  the  dialectic  operating 
within  Modernist  discourse  on  originality  and  imitation. 
Inasmuch  as  Malevich  claimed  his  place  in  history  as  the 
originator  of  a  unique  style,  his  contribution  required  a  context 
for  its  interpretation.  The  desired  interpretation  (the 
originality  of  Suprematism)  could  be  assured  only  by 
establishing  relationships  to  preceding  artistic  trends  and  by 
the  generation  of  a  following  among  like-minded  artists. 
Malevich's  dual  concern  echoes  in  the  work  and  theoretical 
writings  of  other  left  artists  throughout  the  1920s.  The  will 
among  vanguard  artists  to  invent  or  trace  their  artistic 
evolution  runs  up  continually  against  their  momentous 
ruptures  with  the  past  and  their  Utopian  interest  in  generating 
a  new  origin  for  the  art  of  the  future.  Here  again,  Malevich 
stands  out;  the  charts  which  he  generated  through  teaching  at 
Vitebsk  and,  after  1921,  in  Petrograd/Leningrad  are  unique  if 
characteristic.  They  map  the  evolution  of  modern  art  from 
Realism  to  Suprematism  and  ascribe  the  generation  of  a  new 
characteristic  form  (the  "additional  element")  to  a  master  artist 
at  the  head  of  each  new  movement.  In  this  way  Malevich  could 
diagram  his  place  within  an  evolutionary  model  of  art  history 
and  at  the  same  time  point  to  his  unique  contribution,  the 
"additional  element"  contained  within  Suprematism.28 

Benua's  reaction  to  the  0.10  exhibition  and  his  analogy 
between  the  vanguard  artist  and  the  carnival  barker  provide 
part  of  the  background  for  Malevich's  historicizing  efforts.  Like 
other  vanguard  artists,  Malevich  tended  to  counter  critics' 
misinterpretation  of  his  art,  and  their  authority,  by  generating 
his  own  stylistic  history.  Evgenii  Kovtun  and  Charlotte 
Douglas  have  traced  the  evolution  of  Malevich's  ideas  that  led 
to  the  development  of  Suprematism  as  a  style  by  drawing 
principally  on  the  remarkably  revealing  correspondence 


vf  hi  «f> 

fig-  5 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Set  design:  Act  II,  scene  J,  for  Aleksei  Kruchenykh, 

Victory  over  the  Sun,  ipij. 

Pencil  on  paper,  21  x  2/  cm. 

St.  Petersburg  State  Museum  of  Theater 

and  Musical  Arts. 

between  Malevich  and  his  close  friend  and  associate,  Mikhail 
Matiushin."  References  to  this  correspondence  have  tended  to 
further  Malevich's  own  interpretive  aims:  to  aggrandize  and 
mystify  the  creative  act  of  invention  (or  "self-creation"). '°  As 
this  correspondence  confirms,  by  May  1915  Malevich  had  come 
to  attribute  the  historical  evolution  of  his  new  style  to  a 
particular  origin  in  his  work — to  his  set  designs  for  Pobeda  nad 
solntsem  (Victory  over  the  Sun,  1913),  a  performance  on  which  he 
had  collaborated  with  Matiushin  and  the  poets  Aleksei 
Kruchenykh  and  Velimir  Khlebnikov."  Douglas  has  drawn  our 
attention  particularly  to  the  set  design  for  Act  II,  scene  5 
(fig.  no.  5)  and  its  "square-within-a-square  format"  as  a  design 
that  was  "halfway  to  {the  Suprematist  square's]  realization."" 
Yet  Malevich's  own  intentions  are  realized  here — for  he  had 
written  to  Matiushin  asking  that  he  include  in  a  new  edition  of 
the  libretto  (planned  but  never  published,  according  to 
Kovtun)  an  illustration  of  this  particular  work.  Through  this 
publication,  the  stage  backdrop  would  serve  as  a  testament 
documenting  the  origins  and  evolution  of  Suprematism.  Thus 
Malevich  writes  to  Matiushin:  "I  would  be  very  grateful  if  you 
would  include  my  drawing  of  the  curtain  for  the  act  in  which 
the  victory  took  place  .  .  .  This  drawing  will  be  of  immense 
significance  for  painting.  That  which  was  done  unconsciously 
now  bears  unexpected  fruit  [neobychainye plody]."" 

Malevich's  concern  to  identify  a  point  of  origin  for 
Suprematism  and  at  the  same  time  to  advance  Suprematism  as 
a  new  origin  in  a  continuous  historical  evolution  of  styles 
explains  the  tremendous  secrecy  with  which  he  guarded  the 
work  that  he  painted  in  this  year.  In  a  manner  that  has  no 
parallel  in  Russia,  Malevich  was  determined  to  author 
Suprematism.  It  was  advanced  specifically  as  his  signature 
style.  Both  Kovtun  and  Douglas  assert  that  until  the  autumn 
of  1915  no  one  except  Matiushin  knew  what  Malevich  was 
working  on  in  his  studio,  but  that  on  or  just  before  September 
25,  1915,  Ivan  Puni  surprised  Malevich  with  an  unexpected  visit 
and  saw  his  latest  work.  Malevich  immediately  wrote 
Matiushin,  urging  him  to  move  ahead  with  the  brochure: 
"Now,  no  matter  what,  I  must  publish  the  brochure  on  my 
work  and  christen  it  and  in  so  doing  protect  my  rights  as 
author."'4  A  few  days  later  he  informs  Matiushin  of  the 
aftereffects  in  the  Moscow  art  world,  noting  that  a  bitter 
debate  over  the  creation  of  a  new  direction  has  arisen,  but  that 
"no  one  knows  the  how  or  the  what  of  it,"  and  everyone  wants 
to  study  his  (Malevich's)  notes.  Still,  for  the  larger  public, 
Malevich's  new  work  remained  unknown.  As  late  as  November 
25th,  he  could  write  to  Matiushin,  "The  name  everyone  knows, 
only  the  content  no  one  knows.  Let  it  remain  a  secret."* 

The  control  with  which  Malevich  manipulated  the 
inauguration  of  Suprematism  can  also  be  understood  in  the 
light  of  Benua's  frequent  reviews  or  critiques  of  vanguard 
epigonism.  Two  external  factors  impinged  both  on  Malevich's 
concern  over  the  historical  representation  of  Suprematism's 
origin  and  on  Benua's  response.  First,  the  rapid  pace  at  which 
artists  were  exposed  to  new  trends  and  producing  new  work, 
together  with  the  constant  turnover  of  exhibitions  and  debates 
and  the  flood  of  reviews,  had  effected  a  perceptible  acceleration 
of  change  in  the  art  world.  As  early  as  1909,  Benua 
characterized  this  phenomenon  as  uniquely  Russian.  In 
February  of  that  year,  he  wrote  a  polemical  critique  of  the 
Russian  art  world  that  begins  with  the  observation:  "There  is 
not  a  day  when  a  new  art  exhibition  does  not  open.  This 
would  be  interesting  if  our  groups  of  artists  were  organized 
according  to  essential  [common]  features  or  strivings 
determined  by  each  group.  But  nothing  of  the  sort  ...  In  a 
provincial  manner,  divisions  occur  among  artists  here  for  the 
most  absurd  reasons  .  .  .  and  so  now  simultaneously  a  mass  of 
exhibitions  have  opened  of  a  'midsize  type'  in  which  all  the 


same  artists  participate,  and  the  character  of  the  work  from  one 
group  to  the  next  is  indistinguishable."'6 

Internecine  feuds  among  artists  as  well  as  reviews  of  art 
exhibitions  testify  to  the  spirit  of  competition  which  this 
pluralism  of  the  art  world  engendered.  From  the  1911— 12  season 
on,  vanguard  groups  were  beset  by  factionalism,  with  artists 
continually  realigning  themselves.  The  Donkey's  Tail  group 
was  formed  initially  by  artists  who,  with  Larionov  and 
Goncharova,  broke  away  from  the  Jack  of  Diamonds.'7 
Although  they  exhibited  together,  Malevich  feuded  with  both 
Larionov  and  Tatlin,  and  Malevich's  invention  of  Suprematism 
was  in  part  fueled  by  his  long-standing  rivalry  with  both 
artists.'6  This  struggle  for  ascendancy  and  legitimation  was 
mapped  out  in  the  installation  of  the  0.10  exhibition,  with 
Malevich  and  his  supporters  occupying  one  room  while  Tatlin 
and  his  group  (including  Popova,  Vera  Pestel',  and  Udal'tsova) 
were  positioned  in  another;  the  sign  professional  artists 
marked  the  difference  between  them. 

Malevich's  efforts  during  the  year  preceding  the  exhibition 
manifest  the  profound  competitiveness  that  shaped  all  aspects 
of  vanguard  activities.  In  this  sense  his  writings  conveyed  a 
very  clear  public  message  which  linked  the  historical 
legitimation  of  his  new  style  with  assertions  of  its  superiority 
over  other  potential  contenders.  In  1915,  Malevich's  letters  to 
Matiushin  record  Malevich's  frustration  with  the  contemporary 
art  scene  and  with  its  eclecticism,  and  articulate  the  sense 
among  artists  that  a  new  coherent  movement  was  needed.  As 
Malevich  puts  it,  "In  Moscow  they  are  beginning  to  agree  with 
me  that  we  must  present  ourselves  under  a  new  banner."'9 
Thus,  while  he  asserts  the  need  to  present  a  coherent 
movement  through  the  0.10  exhibition,  he  wonders  if  anyone 
else  has  advanced  a  rival  theory  or  style  and  continues  by 
giving  the  reasons  why  he  finds  Suprematism  the  best  name  for 
his:  "But  it  will  be  interesting  to  see:  will  they  give  [this 
banner]  a  new  form?  I  think  that  Suprematism  is  the  most 
appropriate  [name],  since  it  signifies  supremacy  [or 
dominion — gospodstvo}.""'0  He  attached  tremendous  importance 
to  the  text  which  first  bore  the  name  of  the  style  (From  Cubism 
to  Suprematism)  and  which  had  been  published  by  Matiushin  in 
time  to  be  sold  at  the  exhibition.  Thanking  Matiushin, 
Malevich  writes,  "It  will  advance  my  position  tremendously" 
and  again  a  few  days  later,  "the  brochure  is  playing  an 
important  role  for  me."4'  In  the  context  of  vanguard  rivalries, 
there  could  be  no  mistaking  the  value  which  Malevich  placed 
on  competitive  public  access  to  his  work  and  on  control  over 
the  means  and  process  of  its  critical  reception. 

An  equally  important  consideration  for  Malevich  was  the 
changing  makeup  of  the  public  and  the  shifts  in  its  reaction  to 
the  vanguard  debates  and  exhibitions.  Outside  of  published 
criticism,  the  social  composition  of  the  urban  Russian  public  is 
extremely  difficult  to  document.  Reviews,  however,  give  a 
good  indication  of  the  turnarounds  in  the  public  response  to 
vanguard  art.  In  his  "Cubism  or  Je-m'en-foutisme"  of  1912,  Benua 
writes  that  just  two  years  earlier,  portions  of  Burliuk's  speech 
on  Cubism  would  have  created  a  scandal.  Benua  makes  these 
comments  in  order  to  illustrate  "how  fast  we  have  declined," 
indicating  that  by  1912  segments  of  the  public  had  become 
inured  or  even  attracted  to  the  vulgarity  of  vanguard  debates 
and  exhibitions.  The  year  1910  is  in  fact  an  appropriate  one  to 
mark,  since  it  constitutes  the  beginning  of  this  generation's 
series  of  confrontations  with  the  public  in  the  exhibition  space. 
The  first  Jack  of  Diamonds  exhibition  (which  included  work 
by  Malevich,  Goncharova,  Larionov,  and  Tatlin  together  for  the 
first  time)  opened  to  cries  of  scandal  in  December  1910,42  a  year 
later,  at  a  public  debate  organized  by  this  group,  Larionov 
announced  the  platform  of  the  Donkey's  Tail  group  to  jeering 
crowds.4'  By  1912,  the  public  usually  attended  these  debates  in 

the  hope  of  witnessing  a  scandal  or  fight  (notorious  incidents 
were  always  documented  in  the  press).  In  1913  Larionov  was 
tried  and  fined  for  having  punched  one  artist  in  the  face  and 
thrown  the  podium  into  the  audience.44  But  in  1913  there  were 
also  signs  of  acquiescence,  of  public  acceptance  of  provocations 
and,  indeed,  of  new  "radical"  painting. 

The  overwhelming  success  of  Goncharova 's  solo  exhibition 
in  Moscow  at  the  end  of  1913  is  the  first  significant  measure  of 
public  acceptance  and  critical  acclaim  for  the  vanguard  artist. 
Paintings  which  had  been  considered  radical  just  a  year  ago 
were  now  appreciated  or  accepted  by  the  same  public  and 
described  in  the  press  as  "accessible."  A  reviewer  in  Moskovskaia 
gazeta  (The  Moscow  Gazette)  declared:  "It  seems  that  Rayist  and 
Futurist  art  are  becoming  stylish  [rnodnyi\.  In  a  little  while, 
both  Goncharova  and  Larionov  will  be  acclaimed  on  the  level  of 
Korovin  and  Kustodiev."45  The  same  reviewer  writes  that  the 
success  of  the  opening  night  was  completely  unexpected  by  the 
organizers  and  made  Goncharova  an  instant  sensation.  His 
summary  of  the  "successful  components"  of  the  evening  focuses 
primarily  on  the  appeal  her  exhibition  had  as  a  social  diversion, 
uniting  in  symbiotic  agreement  the  vanguard  artist  as 
provocatrice  and  her  receptive  audience:  "Packed  halls,  'chic' 
public,  the  incredulous  looks  and  confused  smiles  of  those  who 
were  leaving,  the  ironic  'witticisms'  and  independent  poses  of 
the  brave,  a  couple  of  Futurist  characters  persistently  competing 
for  attention  in  orange  jackets  and  with  carnations  braided  in 
their  hair,  the  blushing-for-joy  Goncharova  and  the  magically- 
appearing-in-twenty-places-at-once  Larionov."46  Thus,  the  fresh 
appeal  of  Goncharova's  art  is  set,  within  the  context  of  the 
exhibition  space,  as  that  of  a  new  type  of  urban  spectacle — 
dominated  by  an  elite  Muscovite  public  that  now  included  the 
vanguard  artist. 

There  are  parallel  contemporary  accounts  of  the  public- 
debate  forum  which  by  1913  had  become  an  established  event.  A 
booklet  published  in  Moscow  in  1914  chronicles  the  reciprocity 
between  the  audiences  and  the  organizers  of  these  vanguard 
debates.47  Observing  that  the  debates  have  become  increasingly 
frequent  and  varied,  the  anonymous  author  writes: 

If  one  studies  carefully  the  different  lectures,  and  particularly  the 
debates,  one  comes  to  the  inevitable  conclusion  that  they  are  no  more 
than  a  shameless  and  open  exploitation  of  popular  entertainment.  It  is 
frequently  so  hapless,  and  crude  (an  exploitation),  that  one  has  to 
wonder  why  the  public  reacts  with  such  relative  calm  to  these  lowbrow 

By  the  way,  the  public,  for  the  most  part,  gets  what  it  is  looking 
for.  And  it  is  usually  looking  for  a  scandal. 

The  participants  in  debates  and  lectures  have  reckoned  beautifully 
with  this  search  for  scandal  and  organize  them  relatively  skillfully.  To 
the  naive  person  it  may  seem  that  the  scandal  arose  suddenly,  without 
warning.  Whereas  the  entrepreneur  has  invited  a  particular  opponent 
(especially  from  among  the  Futurists),  knowing  full  well  in  advance 
that  he  will  create  a  scandal. 4S 

The  new  reconciliation  of  the  "radical"  and  the  "acceptable" 
in  the  public  reception  of  vanguard  art  and  in  the  forum  of  the 
debate  explains  much  about  the  seemingly  contradictory 
responses  to  the  0.10  exhibition.  Thus-,  among  the  reviews  of 
that  exhibition,  we  find  a  number  of  wholesale  rejections  of  the 
work  shown  there  as  well  as  a  few  of  the  most  subtle  positive 

fig.  6 

Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Cupboard  with  Dishes,  191$. 

Oil  on  canvas,  64  x  4$  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 



fig- 7 

Nadezbda  Udal'tsova 

Kitchen,  191$. 

Oil  on  canvas,  66  x  81.5  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


appraisals.  One  of  the  more  negative  reviewers  connected 
Suprematism  with  Tatlin,  exclaiming  that  "the  audacity  of 
Futurism  has  given  birth  to  Suprematism,  sincerity  has  turned 
into  a  joke  at  the  public's  expense.  And  not  a  trace  of  painting 
remains.  Only  tinplate."49  Like  Benua  in  his  earlier  reaction  to 
Goncharova's  Cubo-Futurist  work,  the  reviewer  describes  his 
appreciation  of  the  difficulties  inherent  in  looking  at  the  Cubo- 
Futurist  painting,  contrasting  that  perceptual  process  with  the 
new  work  on  view: 

You  squint,  you  blink,  you  unexpectedly  study  the  corners  of  the 
painting  on  the  canvases  of  the  Futurists. 

But  not  with  the  Suprematists.  The  work  is  dry,  monotonous,  there 
is  neither  painting  nor  individuality.  Malevich  is  like  Popova,  Popova 
is  like  Puni,  Puni  is  like  Udal'tsova.  You  can't  distinguish  between 

Negative  reviews  such  as  this  one  are  typical  of  the  majority 
of  reviews  of  avant-garde  art  and,  in  their  leveling  of 
individualities,  rationalize  the  competitive  spirit  of  vanguard 
enterprises — both  exhibitions  and  debates.  The  dialogue 
between  Benua  and  Malevich  is  unusual  precisely  because  of 
the  passion  and  personal  nature  of  the  attack.  It  was  in  the 
interest  of  those  in  control  to  underplay  the  shock  of  avant- 
garde  transgressions  and  to  neutralize,  as  the  reviewer  does 
above,  difference  as  a  function  of  vanguard  innovation.  In  this 
context,  the  positive  reviews  are  more  interesting,  for  they 
display  far  more  critical  sophistication  than  the  negative  ones 
(Benua's  aside).  And,  while  reviewers  occasionally  take  sides, 
they  openly  refer  to  artists'  concern  with  their  place  in  history, 
engaging  in  a  more  explicit  way  the  question  of  originality  and 
posledovatel 'nost' (succession).  For  example,  Matiushin  praises 
both  Malevich's  and  Tatlin's  work  and,  not  surprisingly,  asserts 
that  Suprematism  gives  "the  strong  impression  that  it  is  the 
oncoming  shift  [sdvig]  in  art."50  Regarding  Tatlin  ("without  a 
doubt,  a  great  artist"),  he  argues  that  despite  the  "intensity  of 
his  constructive  idea,"  his  earlier  reliefs  are  stronger  works  of 
art.''  Matiushin's  review  is  of  greater  importance  as  an  indicator 
of  the  degree  to  which  the  language  of  criticism  and  theory  had 
developed  by  1915  (he  speaks  of  the  "strength  of  painterly 
masses,"  of  the  "dynamism  of  colors,"  of  "color  planes,"  and  so 
forth).  He  notes  in  closing  that  the  competition  among  artists 
for  pervenstvo  (primacy)  undercuts  the  development  of  their 
ideas:  "Whoever  says  the  last  word  is  king!"52 

Aleksandr  Rostislavov's  review,  published  in  the  same 
journal  as  Benua's,  is  the  strongest  positive  review  of  both 
Malevich's  and  Tatlin's  work.5'  He  first  notes  that  the 
exhibition  marks  a  "difficult  shift  [tiazhelyi  sdvig]"  in  the 
"changing  forms  of  art."  Meanwhile,  he  argues,  this  exhibition 
does  constitute  the  end  of  a  tradition  (Cubo-Futurism),  whose 
past  has  become  clearly  associated  with  the  work  of  French 
artists,  primarily  Cezanne  and  Picasso.  He  observes  that  the 
tremendous  speed  of  creative  "inventiveness"  is  underscored  by 
the  fact  that  "yesterday's  innovators  are  today's  'elders'"  and  are 
not  represented  at  this  exhibition  (he  probably  had 
Goncharova,  Larionov,  Vasilii  Kandinskii,  and  Burliuk  in 
mind).  He  then  discusses  both  Suprematism  and  Tatlin's 
counter-reliefs  in  a  way  that  has  no  parallel  in  Russian  art 
criticism  before  the  Revolution.  His  review  of  Malevich's 
paintings  concludes  with  the  question:  "Doesn't  this 
geometricization  have  something  to  say  .  .  .  this  planar 
painting  of  such  secretive  and  appealing  complexity  and 
mystery?"  He  observes  of  Tatlin's  Kontr-rel'ef  (Counter-Relief , 
1914-15,  plate  no.  70)  "only  an  artist  could  so  combine  these 
materials  .  .  .  and  harmonize  the  intersecting  surfaces  and 
inflections.  Moreover,  the  mechanical  work  itself  is  not  easy 
where  the  materials  must  strictly  serve  a  preplanned  totality." 

Likewise,  he  notes  the  skill  with  which  Rozanova  in  Shkaf 
s posudoi  (Cupboard  with  Dishes,  1915,  fig.  no.  6;  compare  plate 
no.  46)  and  Udal'tsova  in  Kukhniia  (Kitchen,  1915,  fig.  no.  7; 
compare  plate  no.  39)  manipulate  form  and  color. 

Rostislavov  reads  an  agenda  into  Malevich's  coordination  of 
text  (From  Cubism  to  Suprematism)  and  event  (the  inauguration 
of  Suprematism  itself),  questioning  the  linear  history  the 
brochure  purports  to  establish.  He  observes  that,  from 
Impressionism  to  the  present  day,  painting  has  indeed  moved 
away  from  mimeticism  to  "self-contained  painterly  means  of 
expression."  But  he  notes  that  others  (he  names  Kandinskii) 
have  reached  "non-objectivism"  and  implies  that  this  path  may 
not  lead  "in  strict  sequence  to  Malevich's  Suprematism."  By 
citing  both  Kandinskii's  work  and  Tatlin's  achievement  in 
creating  the  counter-relief,  he  essentially  challenges  the  notion 
of  singular  stylistic  histories,  and  points  instead  to  the  many 
manifestations  of  abstract  art  in  Russia.  Moreover,  he  laments 
the  disappearance  of  Cubo-Futurist  "painterly-ornamental 
perceptibility"  and  concludes  that  "the  inventiveness  and  rapid 
advancements  made  by  new  artists  cannot  be  doubted,  but  the 
question  remains:  are  not  concepts  of  form  in  art  in  a  state  of 
chaotic  ferment?"54 

Although  diametrically  opposed,  Benua's  and  Rostislavov's 
reviews  both  register  the  assimilation  of  vanguard  art  to  an 
unprecedented  degree.  By  rejecting  Malevich's  claims  in  the 
first  place,  Benua  demonstrates  the  extent  to  which  success  as 
an  artist  was  determined  by  the  artist's  hegemonic  conception 
of  "style."  Rostislavov's  equivocation  reveals,  in  contrast,  a 
different  sense  in  which  "style"  could  be  understood  in  Russia 
in  1915:  as  personal  and  pluralistic.55  And  significantly,  despite 
Malevich's  effort,  he  remained  unconvinced  that  Suprematism 
would  transform  the  chaos  of  today  into  tomorrow's  order.  The 
reception  of  Suprematism  thus  points  to  a  broader 
phenomenon,  the  transformation  of  the  avant-garde  from 
oppositional  strategists  and  instigators  of  public  scandal  into 
historians  of  their  own  recent  past.  Malevich's  affirmation  in 
written  texts  of  his  own  place  in  history,  like  his  return  in  the 
1920s  to  figurative  painting  of  earlier  Primitivist  themes, 
continued  and  extended  his  quest  for  legitimacy  in  a  factional 
and  highly  politicized  cultural  environment. 

Benua's  review  of  the  0.10  exhibition  has  been  overlooked 
by  most  contemporary  scholars,  even  dismissed,  no  doubt 
because  its  tone  and  content  demythologize  avant-garde  artists' 
claims  to  absolute  originality.  Yet  this  text,  perhaps  more  than 
any  other,  represents  the  paradoxical  status  of  the  Russian 
avant-garde  before  the  Revolution  as  outsiders  who  turned  to 
their  advantage  concepts  of  originality  and  succession  which 
had  marginalized  them.  Malevich's  response  to  Benua,  read  in 
the  context  of  his  correspondence  with  Matiushin,  reveals  both 
a  public  and  a  private  creative  concern  over  the  legitimation  of 
Suprematism  in  an  art  world  marked  by  competition,  stylistic 
eclecticism,  and  real  social  and  economic  disenfranchisement. 
Both  Benua's  and  Rostislavov's  reviews  give  shape  to  what 
might  be  called  the  politics  of  originality.  The  unique 
succession  of  "isms"  in  the  art  of  the  1910s,  documented  by- 
published  manifestos  and  often  by  the  press,  reveals  that  the 
"anxiety  of  anticipation"56  among  artists  in  Russia  was  equal  to 
that  experienced  by  the  West  European  avant-garde.  And 
significantly,  in  light  of  the  work  displayed  in  the  present 
exhibition,  this  suggests  in  turn  that  the  tenor  of  competition 
and  debate  during  the  critical  mid-teens  prepared  the  ground 
for  the  combative  responses  of  the  same  generation  of  artists  to 
artistic  pluralism  in  the  1920s. 



i.  Aleksandr  Benua,  "Posledniaia  futuristicheskaia  vystavka," 
Rech',  January  9,  1916,  p.  3. 

2.  Benua  (and  Malevich  as  well;  see  note  6)  was  responding  to 
an  article  by  the  writer  Dmitrii  Merezhkovskii  entitled 
"Eshche  odin  shag  griadushchego  khama,"  which  was 
originally  published  in  the  Moscow  daily  newspaper,  Russkoe 
slovo,  June  29,  1914.  This  article,  whose  title  may  be  translated 
"The  Oncoming  Boor  Is  One  Step  Closer,"  refers  to  the 
intelligentsia's  anxiety  over  social  philistinism  and  the 
commercial  exploitation  of  culture  during  the  period 
immediately  preceding  the  Revolution  in  Russia. 

3.  Several  of  the  earliest  of  recent  studies  on  the  theory  of  the 
avant-garde,  including  Renato  Poggioli's  The  Theory  of  the 
Avant-Garde,  trans.  Gerald  Fitzgerald  (Cambridge  and  London: 
Harvard  University  Press,  Belknap  Press,  1968),  trace  the 
relationship  of  avant-garde  aesthetics  and  social  and  political 
radicalism  to  the  first  and  second  quarters  of  the  nineteenth 
century  in  France.  Linda  Nochlin's  exploration  of  the  avant- 
garde  in  France,  published  originally  in  1968  in  Art  News 
Annual,  cites  the  French  Utopian  socialist  Henri  de  Saint- 
Simon  and  the  Fourieriste  art  critic  Gabriel-Desire  Laverdant. 
See  her  essay,  "The  Invention  of  the  Avant-Garde:  France, 
1830-1880,"  in  her  The  Politics  of  Vision:  Essays  on  Nineteenth- 
Century  Art  and  Society  (New  York:  Harper  and  Row,  1989), 

p.  2.  Laverdant  is  also  quoted  in  Poggioli:  "Art,  the  expression 
of  society,  manifests,  in  its  highest  soaring,  the  most  advanced 
social  tendencies:  it  is  the  forerunner  and  the  revealer."  Theory 
of  the  Avant-Garde,  p.  9. 

4.  El  Lissitzky,  "Suprematism  in  World  Reconstruction,"  in 
Sophie  Lissitzky-Kiippers,  El  Lissitzky:  Life,  Letters,  Texts,  trans. 
Helene  Aldwinckle  and  Mary  Whittall  (Greenwich,  Conn.: 
New  York  Graphic  Society,  1968),  p.  327.  The  lowercase  letters 
reproduce  the  style  in  Lissitzky 's  original  text. 

5.  Ibid. 

6.  "A  Letter  from  Malevich  to  Benois,"  May  1916,  in 

K.  S.  Malevich,  Essays  on  Art,  ipi^-ip^,  ed.  Troels  Andersen, 
trans.  Xenia  Glowacki-Prus  and  Arnold  McMillin 
(Copenhagen:  Borgen,  1968),  vol.  1,  pp.  42-48.  Andersen  states 
(p.  243n)  that  Malevich  intended  to  publish  it.  Instead,  he 
apparently  sent  the  letter  directly  to  Benua,  for  it  concludes 
with  the  postscript:  "Since  the  doors  of  the  press  are  closed  to 
us  I  am  writing  to  you  personally."  The  letter  is  located  in  the 
Manuscript  Division,  State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg, 
f.  137,  d.  1186,  1.  1-3.  Excerpts  were  previously  published  in 
Russian  in  Lev  N.  Diakonitsyn,  Ideinye protivorechiia  v  estetike 
russkoi  zhivopisi  kontsa  ip — nachala  20  vv.  (Perm1:  Permskoe 
knizhnoe  izdatel'stvo,  1966),  pp.  214—15.  The  quotations  in  this 
essay  are  adapted  from  the  published  English  translation. 

7.  "Letter  from  Malevich  to  Benois,"  p.  45. 

8.  K.  S.  Malevich,  0  novykh  sistemakh  v  iskusstve  (Vitebsk: 
Unovis,  1919).  The  cover  is  reproduced  in  Larissa  A.  Zhadova, 
Malevich:  Suprematism  and  Revolution  in  Russian  Art,  ipio—ip^o, 
trans.  Alexander  Lieven  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson,  1982), 
plate  185.  For  a  full  discussion  of  the  "collective"  nature  of  the 
Vitebsk  school  (later  Posnovis  and  Unovis),  see  Aleksandra 
Shatskikh,  "Unovis:  Epicenter  of  a  New  World,"  in  this 

9.  A.  Benua,  "Povorot  k  lubku,"  Rech',  March  18,  1909,  p.  2. 
Sergei  Makovskii  was  another  critic  to  identify  Primitivism  as 
a  trend  among  a  new  generation  of  artists.  For  a  summary  of 
and  excerpts  from  Makovskii's  writings,  see  John  E.  Bowk, 
"The  Blue  Rose  Movement  and  Russian  Symbolism,"  Slavonic 

and  East  European  Review  51,  no.  123  (April  1973),  pp.  161-81, 
reprinted  in  Russian  Art,  i8ys-iP57-  A  Collection  of  Essays  (New 
York:  MSS  Information  Corporation,  1976),  pp.  63-93. 

10.  A.  Benua,  "Kubizm  ili  kukishizm,"  Rech',  November  23, 
1912,  p.  2.  It  was  this  review,  no  doubt,  that  incited  Burliuk  to 
publish  his  counterattack  as  a  booklet  entitled  Galdiashchie 
Benua  i  novoe  russkoe  natsional'noe  iskusstva  (St.  Petersburg,  1913). 
The  book  took  the  form  of  an  artificial  debate  with  Benua  in 
which  Burliuk  quoted  long  excerpts  from  Benua's  writings 
interspersed  with  his  own  commentary. 

11.  K.  S.  Malevich,  "Zadachi  iskusstva  i  rol1  dushitelei 
iskusstva,"  Anarkhiia  25  (March  23,  1918).  As  translated  in  "The 
Problems  of  Art  and  the  Role  of  Its  Suppressors,"  in  Malevich, 
Essays  on  Art,  ipi^-iptf,  vol.  1,  p.  49.  The  essay  is  an  important 
retrospective  critique  of  the  power  individual  critics  exercised 
(both  Benua  and  Iakov  Tugendkhol'd  are  named).  Although 
the  essay  was  published  with  the  signatures  of  Aleksei 
Morgunov  and  Aleksei  Gan  in  addition  to  that  of  Malevich, 
Andersen  attributes  the  text  to  Malevich.  For  his  discussion  of 
Malevich's  participation  in  this  journal,  see  ibid.,  p.  244m 

12.  Mikhail  Vrubel1,  Viktor  Borisov-Musatov,  Pavel  Kuznetsov, 
and  Natal'ia  Goncharova  were  all  major  participants  in  avant- 
garde  exhibitions  at  different  points  in  time  before  the 

13.  The  organizers  of  the  Union  of  Youth  (1910— 14)  were 
Mikhail  Matiushin  and  Elena  Guro.  Members  of  the  group  and 
participants  in  their  exhibitions  were  Pavel  Filonov,  Ol'ga 
Rozanova,  Iosif  Shkol'nik,  Vladimir  Markov  (Waldemars 
Matvejs),  David  Burliuk,  Kazimir  Malevich,  and  Vladimir 
Tatlin.  A  number  of  members  of  the  Muscovite  Donkey's  Tail 
group  exhibited  in  Union  of  Youth  exhibitions,  notably 
Natal'ia  Goncharova  and  Mikhail  Larionov.  See  E.  F  Kovtun, 
"K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k  M.  V  Matiushinu,"  Ezhegodnik 
Rukopisnogo  otdela  Pushkinskogo  doma  na  ipy4  go<^  (Leningrad: 
Nauka,  1976),  p.  178  n.  19. 

14.  Aleksandr  Benua,  "Sezan  i  Gogen,"  Rech',  January  27,  1912, 
p.  2. 

15.  In  the  review  of  the  0.10  exhibition,  Benua  paradoxically 
attributes  some  positive  value  to  these  "tricks."  He  praises 
Tatlin  using  the  very  same  terminology  with  which  he 
criticizes  Malevich:  "I  am  familiar  with  Tatlin's  theatrical 
designs  in  which  there  is  a  charming  and  original  quality  of 
color  and  an  unusual  balancing  [ekvilibristika]  of  line-filleg.}. 
Perhaps  this  is  only  trickery,  but  even  trickery  is  already  an  art, 
and  for  this  talent  is  required."  Benua,  "Posledniaia 
futuristicheskaia  vystavka,"  p.  3. 

16.  Aleksandr  Benua,  "Dnevnik  khudozhnika,"  Rech',  October 
21,  1913,  p.  4. 

17.  Goncharova's  work  had  been  censored  from  exhibitions  on 
several  occasions,  first  in  March  1910;  as  a  result,  she  was  tried 
in  December  1910  for  pornography,  but  acquitted.  See  Jane  A. 
Sharp,  "Redrawing  the  Margins  of  Russian  Vanguard  Art: 
Goncharova's  Trial  for  Pornography  in  1910,"  in  Sexuality  and 
the  Body  in  Russian  Culture,  ed.  Jane  Costlow,  Stephanie  Sander, 
and  Judith  Vowles,  forthcoming. 

18.  Victor  Erlich  translates  Shklovskii's  term  zatrudnennaia 
forma  as  "deliberately  impeded  form,"  but  as  his  analysis  of  this 
concept  reveals,  the  term  refers  both  the  artist's  act  of  "creative 
deformation"  and  to  the  perceptual  process.  Citing  Shklovskii, 
he  writes:  "The  act  of  creative  deformation  restores  sharpness  to 
our  perception,  giving  'density'  to  the  world  around  us. 
'Density  (faktura)  is  the  principal  characteristic  of  this  peculiar 
world  of  deliberately  constructed  objects,  the  totality  of  which 


we  call  art.'  .  .  .  Another  crucial  aspect  of  the  'deliberately 
impeded  form'  ...  is  rhythm — a  set  of  contrivances 
superimposed  upon  ordinary  speech."  Victor  Erlich,  Russian 
Formalism:  History— Doctrine,  3d  ed.  (New  Haven  and  London: 
Yale  University  Press,  1981),  pp.  177-78. 

19.  K.  S.  Malevich,  Ot  kubizma  k  suprematizmu.  Novyi  zhivopisnyi 
realizm  (Petrograd,  1916).  Although  the  brochure  is  dated  1916, 
a  number  of  reviews  document  that  it  was  sold  at  the 
exhibition  when  it  opened  on  December  17,  1915.  According  to 
Evgenii  Kovtun,  it  was  published  in  two  more  editions  in  1916, 
the  second  in  Petrograd,  the  third  in  Moscow.  See  Kovtun, 
"K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k  M.  V.  Matiushinu,"  p.  181  nn.  28,  31. 

20.  Benua's  paranoid  response  also  has  its  precedent  in  a 
number  of  responses  to  Goncharova's  solo  exhibitions  in  both 
Moscow  and  St.  Petersburg.  A  self-appointed  critic,  Valentin 
Songaillo,  published  a  separate  pamphlet  on  the  occasion  of  her 
Moscow  exhibition.  Like  Benua  in  his  later  critique  of 
Malevich,  Songaillo  casts  his  language  in  quasi-religious  terms, 
labeling  Goncharova  an  "antiartist"  in  an  obvious  parallel  to 
the  Antichrist.  This  pamphlet  did  in  fact  achieve  its  intended 
effect  of  censoring  Goncharova's  exhibition.  When  the  show 
(significantly  reduced  in  size)  opened  in  St.  Petersburg  in 
March  1914,  police  raided  the  building  and  seized  all  of  her 
religious  paintings  in  accordance  with  a  zapret  (ban)  invoked  by 
the  "spiritual  censorship  committee"  of  the  Orthodox  Church. 
On  this  occasion  she  was  also  accused  by  the  press  of 
blasphemy.  See  Jane  A.  Sharp,  "Primitivism,  'Neoprimitivism' 
and  the  Art  of  Natal'ia  Goncharova,  1907-14."  (Ph.D.  diss., 
Yale  University,  1992),  chapter  4.3. 

21.  I  refer  to  Richard  Shiff's  seminal  writing  on  the  history  of 
this  concept,  and  particularly  to  his  discussion  of  the  "classic" 
in  "The  Original,  the  Imitation,  the  Copy,  and  the 
Spontaneous  Classic:  Theory  and  Painting  in  Nineteenth- 
Century  France,"  Yale  French  Studies  66  (1984),  pp.  27—54, 
where,  referring  to  Quatremere  de  Quincy's  writings  on  the 
classic  Greeks,  he  observes:  "They  initiated  a  tradition 
characterized  by  a  system  and  principle  and  served  as  an 
absolute  origin,  not  a  mere  member,  like  any  other  member,  of  a 
sequence  of  copies"  (p.  37).  His  discussion  of  this  concept  has 
extremely  important  implications  for  Malevich's  view  of  his 
own  originality,  and  his  anxiety  over  his  success  at  enlisting 
followers  and  having  "copyists"  who  would  simultaneously 
(and  paradoxically)  both  ensure  his  place  in  history  as  an 
"absolute  origin"  and  devalue  his  contribution,  as  will  be  seen 
in  what  follows. 

22.  Aleksandr  Benua,  "Vystavka  'Sovremennoi  russkoi 
zhivopisi,'"  Rech',  December  2,  1916,  p.  2.  Malevich  did  not 
exhibit  work  in  this  show;  among  the  participants  were  David 
Burliuk,  Nikolai  Kul'bin,  Chagall,  Kandinskii,  Popova,  and 

23.  During  the  course  of  1916  the  group  was  formed  and  a 
publication  planned;  Malevich  refers  to  the  publication  of  a 
journal  in  his  correspondence  with  Mikhail  Matiushin  as 
early  as  1915.  See  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k 

M.  V  Matiushinu,"  p.  186.  Due  to  the  events  of  war  and 
revolution,  the  publication  was  never  realized. 

24.  "Letter  from  Malevich  to  Benois,"  p.  43. 

25.  Ibid.,  p.  45. 

26.  Benua,  "Posledniaia  futuristicheskaia  vystavka,"  p.  3. 

27.  "Letter  from  Malevich  to  Benois,"  p.  44. 

28.  For  more  details  regarding  these  charts,  see  Troels 
Andersen's  translations  from  Russian  to  English  in  Troels 

Andersen,  Malevich,  catalogue  raisonne  of  the  Berlin 
Exhibition,  including  the  collection  in  the  Stedelijk  Museum, 
Amsterdam  (Amsterdam:  Stedelijk  Museum,  1970),  pp.  115-36 
and  Linda  S.  Boersma's  essay,  "On  Art,  Art  Analysis  and  Art 
Education:  The  Theoretical  Charts  of  Kazimir  Malevich,"  in 
Kazimir  Malevich,  i8y8—i^$,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized 
by  the  Russian  Museum,  Leningrad,  the  Tretiakov  Gallery, 
Moscow,  and  the  Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam  (Amsterdam: 
Stedelijk  Museum,  1989),  pp.  206-23.  This  linear  evolutionary 
concept  of  art  history  was  firmly  entrenched  in  Russia  by  1914, 
and  the  models  were  primarily  West  European.  Iakov 
Tugendkhol'd  writes,  for  example,  of  Matisse  and  Picasso:  "If 
the  work  of  Matisse  represents  the  extreme  and  logical 
conclusion  of  the  prophecies  of  Gauguin,  then  Picasso's 
painting  represents  the  paradoxical  completion  of  Cezanne's." 
la.  Tugendkhol'd,  "Frantsuzskoe  sobranie  S.  I.  Shchukina," 
Apollon  1—2  (January— February  1914),  p.  28. 

29.  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k  M.  V  Matiushinu"; 
Charlotte  Douglas,  "0-10  Exhibition,"  in  The  Avant-Garde  in 
Russia,  ipio-ipjo:  New  Perspectives,  catalogue  for  exhibition 
organized  by  the  Los  Angeles  County  Museum  of  Art  and  the 
Hirshhorn  Museum  and  Sculpture  Garden,  Smithsonian 
Institution,  Washington,  D.C.  (Cambridge,  Mass.:  MIT  Press, 
1980),  pp.  34-40  and  Swans  of  Other  Worlds:  Kazimir  Malevich 
and  the  Origins  of  Abstraction  in  Russia  (Ann  Arbor:  UMI 
Research  Press,  1980),  pp.  35-47. 

30.  Rosalind  Krauss  has  called  the  avant-garde  artist's  discourse 
on  originality  (she  refers  specifically  to  Marinetti's  1909 
manifesto)  a  "parable  of  self-creation"  and  explains:  "more  than 
a  rejection  or  dissolution  of  the  past,  avant-garde  originality  is 
conceived  as  a  literal  origin,  a  beginning  from  ground  zero,  a 
birth."  Malevich  is  one  of  her  sources;  she  observes,  regarding 
his  famous  pronouncement  "Only  he  is  alive  who  rejects  his 
convictions  of  yesterday,"  that  "the  self  as  origin  has  the 
potential  for  continuous  acts  of  regeneration,  a  perpetuation  of 
self-birth."  See  Rosalind  Krauss,  "The  Originality  of  the 
Avant-Garde:  A  Post-Modernist  Repetition,"  October  18  (Fall 
1981),  pp.  47—66,  reprinted  in  Art  After  Modernism:  Rethinking 
Representation,  ed.  Brian  Wallis  (New  York:  The  New  Museum 
of  Contemporary  Art  in  association  with  David  R.  Godine, 
1984),  p.  18. 

31.  For  details  regarding  the  performance  and  its  relationship  to 
Suprematism,  see  Charlotte  Douglas,  "Birth  of  a  'Royal  Infant': 
Malevich  and  'Victory  over  the  Sun,'"  Art  in  America, 
March-April  1974,  pp.  45-51,  and  her  revised  text  in  Swans  of 
Other  Worlds,  pp.  35-47. 

32.  Douglas,  Swans  of  Other  Worlds,  p.  46. 

33.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin,  May  27, 
1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k  M.  V  Matiushinu," 
pp.  185-86.  In  his  notes,  Kovtun  quotes  from  another, 
unidentified  letter  from  Malevich  to  Matiushin  which  clarifies 
Malevich's  image:  "The  curtain  depicts  the  black  square,  the 
embryo  [zarodysh]  of  all  possibilities — in  its  development  it 
acquires  awesome  power"  (p.  180).  That  the  correspondence 
dates  to  May  1915  suggests  that  Malevich  may  indeed  have 
worked  to  Suprematism  through  a  reexamination  of  his  designs 
for  Victory  over  the  Sun.  It  is  clear  from  the  correspondence,  at 
any  rate,  that  his  recognition  of  the  historical  value  of  the 
designs  occurred  simultaneously  with  the  creation  and 
development  of  his  Suprematist  paintings. 

34.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin, 
September  25,  1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k 
M.  V  Matiushinu,"  pp.  180-81. 


35-  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin, 
November  25,  1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k 
M.  V.  Matiushinu,"  p.  189. 

36.  He  names  the  Soiuz  russkikh  khudozhnikov  (the  Union  of 
Russian  Artists),  Salon,  Novoe  obshchestvo  (the  New  Society), 
Obshchestvo  peterburgskikh  khudozhnikov  (the  Society  of 
Petersburg  Artists),  Akvarelisty  (the  Watercolorists),  and  the 
Osennii  salon  (the  Autumn  Salon).  Aleksandr  Benua, 
"Khudozhestvennye  pis'ma.  Obilie  vystavok,"  Recb',  February 
13,  1909,  p.  2. 

37.  The  split  occurred  in  November-December  1911  as  a  result 
of  Larionov's  disagreement  with  the  official  registration  of  the 
Jack  of  Diamonds  group;  Larionov  and  his  supporters 
countered  this  move  by  announcing  the  separate  organization 
of  a  series  of  exhibitions  beginning  with  the  Donkey's  Tail 
show,  which  took  place  in  Moscow  in  March-April  1912.  His 
critique  of  the  Jack  of  Diamonds  group  was  publicized  in  the 
daily  press;  see  "Ssora  khvostov  s  valetami,"  Golos  Moskvy  285 
(December  11,  1911),  p.  5. 

38.  See  Vasilii  Rakitin,  "The  Artisan  and  the  Prophet:  Marginal 
Notes  on  Two  Artistic  Careers,"  in  this  volume. 

39.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin,  September 
24,  1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma  k  M.  V. 
Matiushinu,"  p.  187. 

40.  Ibid. 

41.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letters  to  Mikhail  Matiushin, 
November  22  and  25,  1915,  in  Kovtun,  "K.  S.  Malevich.  Pis'ma 
k  M.  V.  Matiushinu,"  p.  189. 

42.  Gleb  Pospelov  has  documented  the  reception  of  the  Jack  of 
Diamonds  exhibition  extensively  in  his  article  "O  valetakh 
bubnovykh  i  valetakh  chervonnykh,"  Panorama  iskusstv  ipjj 
(Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1978),  pp.  127—35,  and  more 
recently  in  Bubnovyi  valet.  Primitiv  i  gorodskoi  fol'klor  v  moskovskoi 
zhivopisi  ipio—kh  godov  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1990), 
pp.  98-114. 

43.  A  summary  of  the  debate  was  published  in  a  daily 
newspaper:  "Moskva.  Khudozhestvennyi  disput,"  Protiv 
techemia  22  (February  18,  1912),  p.  3.  For  an  account  in  English, 
see  Benedikt  Livshits,  The  One  and  a  Half-Eyed  Archer,  ed.  and 
trans.  John  E.  Bowlt  (Newtonville,  Mass.:  Oriental  Research 
Partners,  1977),  pp.  81-84. 

44.  These  incidents  occurred  at  a  debate  organized  in 
conjunction  with  the  Mishen' (Target)  exhibition  on  March  23, 
1913;  a  summary  of  the  trial  was  published  as  "Futuristy  na 
sude,"  Golos  Moskvy  240  (October  18,  1913),  p.  5. 

45.  F  M.,  "Chrezvychaino  udavshiisia  vernisazh,"  Moskovskaia 
gazeta,  September  30,  1913.  In  these  reviews  Goncharova  is 
frequently  compared  with  Konstantin  Korovin  (1861-1939),  a 
graduate  of  the  Imperial  Academy  of  Arts  (who  received  the 
title  of  Academician  in  1905)  and  one  of  Larionov's  teachers  at 
the  Moscow  School  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and  Architecture. 
Boris  Kustodiev  (1878-1927),  a  former  student  of  Repin's  at  the 
Imperial  Academy,  received  the  title  of  Academician  in  1909. 

46. Ibid. 

47.  "O  lektsiiakh  i  disputakh,"  Al'manakh  Verbnogo  bazara. 
Moskovskii  sezon  1913-14  (Moscow:  Levenson,  1914),  pp.  12-18. 

48.  Ibid,  pp.  12-13.  The  author  describes  the  public  as  being 
predominantly  composed  of  young  women  from  the  provincial 

49.  B.  Lopatkin,  "Futurizm— Suprematizm,"  reprinted  in 
Herman  Berninger  and  Jean-Albert  Cartier,  Les  Annees  d'avant- 
garde,  Russie — Berlin,  ipio-ip2j,  vol.  1  of  Pougny:  Catalogue  de 
loeuvre  (Tubingen:  Ernst  Wasmuth,  1972),  p.  56. 

50.  M.  Matiushin,  "O  vystavke  'poslednikh  futuristov,'" 
Ocharovannyi  strannik.  Al'manakh  vesennii,  1916,  p.  17. 

51.  Ibid. 

52.  Ibid. 

53.  A.  Rostislavov,  "O  vystavke  futuristov,"  Recb',  December  25, 
1915,  p.  3. 

54.  Ibid. 

55.  The  succession  of  avant-garde  exhibitions  in  1915 — Moskva. 
1915 god  (Moscow.  The  Year  ipi$,  Moscow),  Tramvai  V  (Tramway 
V,  St.  Petersburg),  and  Vystavka  kartin  levykh  techenii  v  iskusstve 
(Exhibition  of  Paintings  of  Left  Trends  in  Art,  St.  Petersburg) — 
must  have  confirmed  the  sense  of  extreme  pluralism  in 
vanguard  art. 

56.  This  term  is  borrowed  twice:  from  Richard  Shiff's 
adaptation  of  Harold  Bloom's  "anxiety  of  influence"  (The 
Anxiety  of  Influence:  A  Theory  of  Poetry  [New  York:  Oxford 
University  Press,  1973]).  See  Shiff,  "The  Original,  the 
Imitation,  the  Copy,  and  the  Spontaneous  Classic,"  pp.  27-31, 


Unovis:  Epicenter  of  a 
New  World 

Aleksandra  Shatskikh 

Unovis  (the  Affirmers  of  the  New  Art),  though  it  has  been 
variously  labeled  a  group,  a  collective,  a  school,  a  commune,  an 
organization,  and  a  program,  is  a  phenomenon  without  parallel 
in  the  history  of  early  Soviet  art  and  defies  classification.  In  its 
origins  and  day-to-day  existence,  Unovis  betrayed  many 
features  of  a  sui-generis  religious  fraternity  or  variety  of 
Masonic  lodge.  Unovis  itself,  adopting  the  revolutionary 
terminology  of  the  era,  preferred  the  description  of  a  "party  in 
art."  This  "party"  of  the  artistic  avant-garde,  so  its  members 
believed,  was  called  upon  to  ensure,  through  both  theory  and 
practice,  the  emergence  of  new  forms  of  life  via  the  evolution  of 
new  systems  in  art.  The  wide  range  and  variety  of  its 
endeavors,  its  broad  influence  and  tangible  achievements,  do, 
however,  permit  one  to  characterize  Unovis  as  a  unique  (and 
largely  realized)  Utopian  model — firmly  rooted  in  the  ideas  of 
Russian  culture  of  the  first  decades  of  the  twentieth  century — 
of  "art  into  life." 

Kazimir  Malevich  was  Unovis's  moving  force  and  architect. 
Like  other  leaders  of  the  Russian  avant-garde  (such  as  Mikhail 
Larionov,  Mikhail  Matiushin,  and  David  Burliuk),  Malevich 
was  endowed  with  exceptional  organizational  abilities.  An 
irresistible  urge  to  forge  artistic  alliances  marked  his  career 
from  the  beginning;  in  Kursk  at  the  close  of  the  nineteenth 
century,  for  example,  he  had  set  up  a  studio,  patterned  after  the 
Parisian  academies,  as  a  gathering  place  for  artists  with 
common  interests.  The  general  situation  in  European  art — 
where  the  founding  of  one's  own  movement,  endowed  with  a 
name,  theory,  and  disciples,  had  become  the  pinnacle  of  self- 
affirmation  for  the  vanguard  artist — added  fuel  to  Malevich's 
organizing  efforts.  In  the  mid-i9ios,  he  assembled  some  ten 
artists  under  the  banner  of  the  movement  he  had  inaugurated 
in  painting,  Suprematism.  The  group  was  called  Supremus, 
and  only  the  events  of  World  War  I  prevented  the 
undertaking's  achieving  its  full  promise. 

Malevich  nourished  the  idea  of  establishing  an  authoritative 
artistic  center,  which  would  fulfill  multiple  functions,  over  the 
course  of  many  years.  The  planning  that  came  to  final  fruition 
in  the  creation  of  Ginkhuk  (the  State  Institute  of  Artistic 
Culture)  in  Leningrad  went  back  to  1917.  In  September  of  that 
year,  Malevich,  who  had  been  elected  president  of  the  Art 
Department  of  the  Moscow  Council  of  Soldiers'  Deputies, 
wrote  to  Matiushin:  "I've  conceived  a  number  of  projects,  to 
wit,  organizing  the  First  People's  Academy  of  Arts  in  Moscow; 
my  idea  was  warmly  received,  and  the  ball's  rolling — soon  I'll 
open  several  small  departments  of  those  cells  which  on  a  broad 
scale  will  constitute  the  Academy."'  His  work  as  a  teacher  in 
the  State  Free  Art  Workshops  in  Moscow  and  Petrograd  was  an 
additional  spur  to  Malevich's  ambitious  plans.  And  the  Vitebsk 
Popular  Art  School — especially  during  Malevich's  first  year 
and  a  half  there — proved  an  ideal  laboratory  for  the 
development  of  Malevich's  ideas. 

Malevich,  accompanied  by  El  Lissitzky,  arrived  in  Vitebsk 
from  Moscow  at  the  beginning  of  November  19192  and  was 
appointed  to  a  teaching  position  at  the  Popular  Art  School,  an 
institute  of  higher  education  founded  and  headed  by  Marc 
Chagall,  a  Vitebsk  native.  At  the  time,  workshops  were 
conducted  at  the  school  by  Vera  Ermolaeva,  Nina  Kogan, 
Lissitzky,  Iurii  Pen,  Aleksandr  Romm,  Chagall,  and  the 
sculptor  David  Iakerson.  Mikhail  Veksler,  Ivan  Gavris, 
Evgeniia  Magaril,  Georgii  and  Mikhail  Noskov,  Nikolai 
Suetin,  Lazar1  Khidekel',  Lev  Tsiperson,  Ivan  Chervinko,  and 
Lev  Iudin  were  among  the  students.  Il'ia  Chashnik,  who  had 
spent  a  term  at  the  Popular  Art  School  and  in  the  autumn  of 
1919  had  enrolled  with  Malevich  at  the  State  Free  Art 
Workshops  in  Moscow,  followed  his  teacher  back  to  Vitebsk. 

Malevich  was  immediately  occupied  with  a  number  of 
ventures.  A  week  after  his  arrival,  the  Pervaia  gosudarstvennaia 




*     f 




^4    \ 




iliniiTfi    I 


vystavka  kartin  mestnykh  i  moskovskikh  khudozhnikov  (First  State 
Exhibition  of  Paintings  by  Local  and  Moscow  Artists) — which 
included  works  by  Chagall,  Malevich,  Vasilii  Kandinskii,  Ol'ga 
Rozanova,  Robert  Fal'k,  and  others — opened  in  Vitebsk. 
Lectures  and  public  meetings  were  held  in  conjunction  with 
the  exhibition,  and  Malevich's  appearances  at  them  attracted 
large  audiences.  The  chance  to  publish  his  theoretical  text,  0 
novykh  sistemakh  v  iskusstve  (On  New  Systems  in  Art),  written  in 
the  summer  of  1919,  had  been  one  of  the  motivations  for 
Malevich's  move  to  Vitebsk.  Now  that  complex  treatise 
furnished  the  basis  for  his  lectures  and  speeches  and  was 
augmented  by  the  "Ustanovlenie  A"  ("Statute  A"),  written  on 
November  15,  1919.  In  the  new  appendix  Malevich  codified  the 
tenets  he  presented  to  his  students. 

Lissitzky  and  the  students  in  his  graphics  workshop  printed 
On  New  Systems  in  Art  lithographically  and  in  an  edition  of  one 
thousand  copies,  as  specified  by  Malevich.'  On  New  Systems  in 
Art  was  the  embryo  of  the  "visual  book"  subsequently 
cultivated  by  Lissitzky.  For  Malevich's  followers  and  students, 
the  brochure  was  also  painting's  "declaration  of  independence" 
from  objectivity,  proclaiming  the  commandments  of  a  "new 
testament" — among  which  the  most  significant  was  the 
injunction  to  introduce  into  art  a  "fifth  dimension,  or 
economy. " 

The  zeal  and  homiletic  power  of  Malevich's  lectures — he 
had  entered  his  prophetic  period — worked  their  influence, 
above  all,  on  those  in  his  audience  primed  to  apprehend  the 
dizzying  transition  from  figurative,  representational  art  to  art 
that  was  non-objective.  Lissitzky,  Ermolaeva,  and  Kogan  were 
among  the  first  to  become  fervent  supporters  of  Malevich. 

Almost  in  a  matter  of  days,  Lissitzky,  an  architect  by 
training  and  until  recently  under  the  influence  of  Chagall, 
brushed  aside  figuration  and  the  intricate  decorativeness  of  his 
earlier  work — which  had  been  strongly  colored  by  the 
traditions  of  Jewish  culture — and  plunged,  with  his  native 
facility  and  passion,  into  non-objective  art.  A  vestige  of  his 
stormy  "romance"  with  Suprematism  and  its  creator  would 
remain  with  Lissitzky  for  the  rest  of  his  life:  the  "transrational" 
phrase  from  the  opening  of  On  New  Systems  in  Art — "U-el-el'-ul- 
el-te-ka, "  which  became  a  sort  of  anthem  or  motto  for  Unovis — 
was  the  inspiration  for  Lissitzky 's  adopted  name,  first  El  and 
later  El'.4 

Ermolaeva  and  Kogan  had  come  to  Vitebsk  from  Petrograd 
(where  their  association  began  with  the  founding  of  the  City 
Museum;  their  assignments  to  Vitebsk  by  Izo  Narkompros  [the 
Department  of  Fine  Arts  of  the  People's  Commissariat  of 
Enlightenment]  came  one  on  the  heels  of  the  other)  and  were 
exponents,  as  their  early  works  attest,  of  a  figurative  art 
making  decorative  use  of  devices  of  the  avant-garde.  At  the 
Vitebsk  Popular  Art  School,  Lissitzky,  Ermolaeva,  and  Kogan 
popularized  Malevich's  theories  and  formed  among  themselves 
a  group  of  "elder  Cubists." 

The  new  artistic  "party"  grew  at  breakneck  speed;  as  in  a 
fairy  tale,  events  unfolded  over  the  course  not  of  days  but  of 
hours.  The  tempo  was  set  by  the  receipt,  in  November  1919,  of 
a  significant  (and  sizable)  commission — decorations  for  the 
anniversary  of  the  Vitebsk  Committee  to  Combat 
Unemployment — to  be  filled  in  a  brief  span  of  time:  the 
anniversary  fell  on  December  17th.  Malevich  and  Lissitzky 
made  the  preliminary  sketches  and  plans  for  the  decorations, 



•  v. 


fig.  2 

El  Lissitzky 

Cover  for  Unovis  Almanac  No.  1,  Ip20. 

Pencil,  india  ink,  and  gouache  on  paper,  35.5  x  2$.$  cm. 

Manuscript  Division,  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 

fig.  1 

Malevich  (center)  and  members  of  Unovis  en  route  from  Vitebsk  to  the 
First  All-Russian  Conference  of  Teachers  and  Students  of  Art  in 
Moscow,  ip20.  Lissitzky,  Kogan,  Ermolaeva,  Chashnik,  Khidekel', 
ludin,  and  Magaril  are  among  those  pictured. 


while  teachers  and  students  collaborated  on  their  execution. 
Intensive  labor  was  required  to  produce  the  enormous  number 
of  Suprematist  decorative  panels  that  adorned  the  White  Army 
Barracks  building,  which  housed  the  committee,  as  well  as 
embroidered  banners,  slogans,  and  stage  decorations  for  the 
committee's  festive  convocation.  Such  possibilities  of  practical 
application  were  from  the  beginning  Suprematism's  greatest 
attraction  and  immediately  won  over  the  majority  of  students 
at  the  Vitebsk  school.  Suprematism's  entry  into  the  "utilitarian 
world  of  things"  would  be  the  cornerstone  of  Unovis. 

The  aura  in  which  Malevich  and  his  work  were  bathed  grew 
tenfold  in  the  wake  of  a  trip  by  the  Vitebsk  students  and 
teachers  to  Moscow  to  view  Malevich's  first  solo  show,  open 
from  the  end  of  1919  through  the  beginning  of  1920  at  the 
Sixteenth  State  Exhibition.  (The  architect  Moisei  Lerman,  who 
was  among  the  Vitebsk  students,  has  described  this  trip  and 
the  exhibition,  as  well  as  his  vague  recollection  of  encountering 
Vladimir  Maiakovskii  there.)5  Malevich,  their  new  leader,  had 
all  the  necessary  credentials:  revolutionary  innovation  in  his 
work,  a  fully  thought-out  theory,  clear  methods  for  advancing 
toward  the  new,  and  superior  artistic  results. 

On  January  19,  1920,  the  Vitebsk  students  organized 
Molposnovis  (the  Young  Followers  of  the  New  Art).  Nine  days 
later,  they  joined  forces  with  their  teachers,  the  "elder  Cubists," 
and  Molposnovis  was  succeeded  by  Posnovis  (the  Followers  of 
the  New  Art). 

The  members  of  Posnovis  were  determined  to  introduce 
new  forms  into  all  types  of  creative  endeavor,  and  the 
celebration  of  Front  Week  in  1920  offered  them  an  opportunity 
to  try  their  hand.  They  decided  to  present  the  legendary  opera 
Pobeda  nad  solntsem  (Victory  over  the  Sun)  on  February  6th,  the 
first  day  of  Front  Week;  the  stage  and  costume  designs  for  this 
production  were  created  by  Ermolaeva  under  Malevich's 
general  direction  (plate  no.  152).  Nina  Kogan  contributed  the 
world's  first  "Suprematist  ballet" — a  curious  and 
underappreciated  venture,  astonishing  in  its  conception:  Kogan 
proposed  to  show  the  "sequential  unfolding  of  the  movement 
of  forms  itself,"  crowned  by  the  "supremacy  of  the  black 
square"  (plate  no.  151).6  (It  should  be  noted  that  the  idea  of  a 
"non-objective  cinematography"  put  forward  much  later  by 
Malevich  was  to  some  degree  anticipated  by  Kogan's  ballet.) 
And  Mikhail  Noskov  gave  a  public  lecture  on  the  new  art  (he, 
together  with  his  brother,  Georgii,  played  a  conspicuous  role  in 
the  life  of  the  Vitebsk  school,  Posnovis,  and  later  Unovis;  after 
1922,  unfortunately,  all  trace  of  the  brothers  vanishes). 

With  these  successes,  the  members  of  Posnovis  grew 
confident  of  their  powers  and  resolved  to  represent  themselves 
henceforth  not  merely  as  followers  of  the  new  art  but  as  its 
affirmers.  Unovis  was  born  on  February  14,  1920. 7  The  name,  an 
acronym  in  keeping  with  the  verbal  shorthand  and  word 
coining  of  the  times,  was  greatly  to  Malevich's  liking — he 
named  his  daughter  Una  in  Unovis's  honor.  And  the  new  word 
spawned  others:  unovisets  (Unovist),  unovisskii  (Unovistic),  and 
unovizm  (Unovism).  The  ease  with  which  "Unovis"  entered  the 
Russian  language  was  an  acknowledgment  of  the  reality  and 
vitality  of  a  phenomenon  for  which  no  other  word  existed. 

The  months  from  November  1919  through  May  1920 
may  be  called  Unovis's  period  of  Sturm  und  Drang. 
Unovis's  problems,  working  conditions,  and  the  nature  of  its 
production  are  documented  in  detail  in  the  typewritten 
Al'manakb  Unovis  No.  1  (Unovis  Almanac  No.  1),  completed  by 
June  1920  (fig.  no.  2).8  A  wealth  of  material  by  Malevich 
himself  appears  in  the  Almanac,  wherein  he  devotes  significant 
space  to  the  notion  of  "collective  creative  work."  (It  was  the 
precisely  the  possibilities  for  "collective  creative  work"  that 
kept  Malevich  in  Vitebsk  for  two  and  a  half  years.)  His  article 
"O  'la'  i  kollektive"  ("On  the  Ego  and  the  Collective") — in 

which  Malevich  expresses  the  views  that  served  as  the 
theoretical  underpinning  of  Unovis — contains  echoes  both  of 
the  philosophy  of  "communality"  (filtered  through  the  prism 
of  Russian  Symbolism)  and  of  the  doctrines  of  the  ruling 
political  party,  which  gave  the  collective  primacy  over  the 
individual:  "'Collectivism'  is  one  of  the  paths  designated  on 
the  road  map  to  achieving  the  'world-man,'  but  it  is  perhaps 
still  merely  one  of  the  necessary  crossings  restraining  on  its 
main  highway  millions  of  egos;  it  offers  only  an  instant  of 
forces  converging  for  the  perfection  of  the  creative  image  of 
'being';  in  it,  each  ego  preserves  its  individual  force,  but  in 
order  to  move  toward  perfection  the  self  must  be  destroyed — 
just  as  religious  fanatics  destroy  themselves  before  the  divine 
being,  so  the  modern  saint  must  destroy  himself  before  the 
'collective'  and  before  that  'image'  which  perfects  in  the  name 
of  unity,  in  the  name  of  conjunction."9 

One  of  the  practical  consequences  of  Malevich's  theorizing 
was  a  conscious  striving  among  the  members  of  Unovis  for 
impersonality  and  anonymity;  they  signed  their  works  not 
with  their  own  names  but  with  "Unovis."  Unovis  was  among 
the  first  artists'  groups  in  the  twentieth  century — if  not  the 
very  first — to  create  and  exhibit  its  production  under  a 
collective  name.  (Obmokhu  [the  Society  of  Young  Artists]  was 
for  a  long  time  credited  with  pioneering  this  practice. 
Obmokhu's  group  signature,  however,  arose  out  of  entirely 
different  circumstances;  it  was  the  result  of  artel-style  practices 
in  the  executing  of  commissions.)10 

The  notion  of  "collective  creative,  work"  has  not  been  a 
recurring  feature  of  Russian  culture  alone  but  has  enticed 
many  of  the  great  creative  minds  of  our  times.  In 
postrevolutionary  Russia,  however,  the  Utopian  doctrines  that 
had  been  one  wellspring  of  the  state's  ideology  would  be 
turned  upside  down  through  the  creation  of  a  totalitarian 
regime,  and  the  country  would  pay  a  heavy  price  for  the 
attempt  forcibly  to  translate  speculative  theories  into  reality. 
The  dark  side  of  a  Utopia  of  enthusiasts  creating  a  new  way  of 
life  according  to  a  single  blueprint  compulsory  for  all  would 
very  quickly  take  its  toll  on  Unovis's  founder  and  his 
followers;  Malevich  would  come  to  know  the  oppressive  might 
of  the  official  art  that  eventually  attained  power  and  state 
support.  In  1927 — with  Ginkhuk,  which  had  in  some  respects 
been  the  successor  to  Unovis,  already  closed — Malevich 
attached  a  note  to  the  manuscripts  he  was  leaving  in  the  West, 
explaining,  with  some  distress,  the  nature  of  those  texts: 
"[Since  I  find]  myself  at  the  time  under  revolutionary 
influence,  there  may  be  powerful  contradictions  with  my 
present  form  of  defending  Art,  i.e.,  in  1927.  These  positions 
are  to  be  considered  genuine.""  It  must  be  said,  to  the  credit  of 
Malevich  and  his  colleagues  likewise  "under  revolutionary 
influence,"  that  they  never  resorted  to  violent  action  against 
the  "old  guard."  The  members  of  Unovis  did  not  regard 
destruction  or  abolition  as  their  primary  task;  they  were, 
rather,  creators  and  cultivators  of  a  new  art  and  a  new  world. 
The  legendary  anecdotes  about  Malevich's  persecution  of 
Chagall  prove,  upon  closer  inspection,  neither  simple  nor 
clearcut.'2  And  it  is  also  worth  noting  that  Pen,  the  academic 
painter  of  the  Wanderer  school  who  was  Chagall's  first  teacher, 
remained  in  his  workshop  at  the  Vitebsk  school  throughout 
the  period  that  Unovis  was  based  there. 

In  Malevich's  eyes,  "collective  creative  work"  greatly 
expanded  the  domain  of  the  new  art,  and  the  introduction  of 
art  into  life  was  to  be  entrusted  to  a  Council  for  the 
Affirmation  of  New  Forms  in  Art,  an  elected  administrative 
body  that  would  be  affiliated  with  the  Vitebsk  Provincial 
Department  of  People's  Education.  The  "Plan  raboty  Soveta" 
("Agenda  of  the  Council"),  which  was  published  in  the  Unovis 
Almanac  No.  1,  contained  five  lengthy  sections."  A  good 


portion  of  the  council's  mission  was  realized  by  Unovis,  even 
though  the  Vitebsk  authorities  were,  naturally,  not  inclined  to 
organize  such  a  body. 

Unovis  went  before  the  Russian  art  public  in  June  1920,  at 
the  First  All-Russian  Conference  of  Teachers  and  Students  of 
Art.  Led  by  Malevich,  the  members  of  Unovis  brought  to 
Moscow  an  exhibition  of  their  work,  the  Unovis  Almanac  No.  1 
(which  had  been  hurriedly  prepared  in  time  for  the  conference), 
and  Malevich's  On  New  Systems  in  Art.  A  specially  printed 
handbill,  "Ot  Unovisa"  ("From  Unovis,"  fig.  no.  3),  was 
distributed  among  the  conference  participants,  who  included 
representatives  from  all  the  provincial  Free  State  Art 
Workshops  as  well  as  those  in  Moscow  and  Petrograd;  the 
handbill,  which  opened  with  an  insistent  "We  want,  we  want, 
we  want,"  issued  this  appeal:  "Under  the  banner  of  Unovis,  let 
everyone  join  together  to  clothe  the  earth  in  new  forms  and 
meanings."  Although  the  Vitebsk  delegates  missed  the 
opening  of  the  conference  and  arrived  near  its  end,  their 
projects  and  programs — notable  for  their  careful  thought, 
scope,  and  clarity — their  passionate  speechmaking,  and  their 
exhibition  moved  Unovis  clearly  to  the  fore.'4  It  was  also  in 
June  1920  that  Unovis  rose  to  preeminence  among  the  new  art 
schools  and  that  its  influence  spread  to  other  cities:  direct  ties 
were  established  between  Vitebsk  and  Perm1,  Ekaterinburg, 
Saratov,  and  Samara  (in  addition  to  Smolensk  and  Orenburg, 
where  followers  of  Malevich's — Wkdyskw  Strzemihski  and 
Katarzyna  Kobro  in  the  former,  and  Ivan  Kudriashev  in  the 
latter — headed  branches  of  Unovis). 

It  was  with  public  artistic  work — the  creation  of  a  "new 
utilitarian  world  of  things" — that  Unovis  launched  its 
expansion;  during  1920—21,  there  was  no  undertaking  or 
holiday  in  Vitebsk  in  which  Unovis  did  not  have  a  hand. 
Streets,  buildings,  signboards,  trams,  and  even  ration  cards 
were  decorated  with  Suprematist  designs  (plate  nos.  127-129, 
144,  148-150).  Unovis  had  for  the  time  being  to  work  within 
the  existing  environment,  and  Suprematist  designs  served, 
more  often  than  not,  as  new  ornaments  for  buildings  and 
objects  of  considerably  older  vintage.  Yet  the  Utopian  idea  of 
transforming  the  world  on  the  basis  of  the  formal  potential  of 
Suprematism  had  brought  architecture  within  Unovis's 
compass.  Architecture,  it  was  generally  accepted,  was  the 
necessary  starting  point  of  a  new  synthetic  style.  "Having 
established  the  specific  plans  of  the  Suprematist  system," 
Malevich  wrote  in  December  1920,  "I  am  entrusting  the 
further  development  of  what  is  already  architectural 
Suprematism  to  young  architects  in  the  broad  sense  of  the 
word,  for  only  in  Suprematism  do  I  see  an  era  of  a  new  system 
of  architecture. ""' 

The  European  Futurists  are  well  known  for  their 
neoromantic  schemes  for  humanity's  settlement  of  the  cosmos. 
Velimir  Khlebnikov,  Vasilii  Chekrygin,  and  Malevich  .vere 
their  Russian  counterparts,  whose  way  had  been  prepared  by 
Nikolai  Fedorov's  "philosophy  of  the  Common  Cause."  In  1918, 
Malevich  had  described  hypothetical  architectural  complexes  in 
such  articles  as  "Architecture  as  a  Slap  in  the  Face  to 
Ferroconcrete."'6  The  formulation  "Suprematism  is  the  new 
Classicism"  would  come  later,  following  Unovis's  move  to 
Petrograd,  but  the  need  to  create  new  architectural  forms  was 
first  recognized,  and  the  initial  planning  steps  taken,  in 
Vitebsk.'7  The  architecture  workshop  (variously  named  at 
different  times)  was  one  of  the  most  popular  at  the  Vitebsk 
school  and  was  headed  by  Lissitzky  from  the  autumn  of  1919 
until  his  departure  from  Vitebsk  in  late  1920  (whereupon 
Chashnik  and  Khidekel1  became  the  workshop's  guiding 
figures).  Lissitzky 's  talent  for  "integration"  (as  Selim  Khan- 
Magomedov  has  aptly  described  it)  had  exceedingly  significant 
consequences  for  Unovis.'8  Lissitzky  fostered  a  strong  utilitarian 

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fig- 3 

"From  Unovis, "  ip20. 

Lithograph,  46x37  cm. 

Manuscript  Division,  State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 

fig- 4 

Unovis:  Handbill  of  the  Vitebsk  Creative  Committee  / 

{November  20,  1920),  with  Chashnik's  project  in  center  column. 

Lithograph,  $8.5x51  cm. 

Manuscript  Division,  State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


bias,  and  his  professional  training  and  striving  for  practical 
results  were  the  bridge  that  led  the  innovators  of  Unovis  "out 
of  cold  laboratories"  and  into  the  real  world. 

At  the  end  of  1919,  Lissitzky  introduced  three-dimensional 
elements  into  his  new  non-objective  compositions.  Such  forms 
had,  of  course,  been  present  in  Malevich's  earliest  Suprematist 
works:  at  the  0.10  exhibition  (Petrograd,  1915-16),  he  had 
shown  a  canvas  incorporating  a  rectangular  parallelepiped  and 
cube.  Malevich,  however,  included  three-dimensional  forms  in 
his  works  only  rarely,  inasmuch  as  they  engendered  an  illusory 
space  that  was  at  odds  with  the  metaphysical  space  of  the 
Suprematist  canvas.  Lissitzky 's  "bars,"  "plates,"  and  "cubes,"  on 
the  contrary,  became  permanent  presences  in  his  work,  their 
execution  betraying  the  practiced  hand  of  the  draftsman. 

In  Lissitzky 's  elegant  works  created  under  the  influence  of 
Suprematism,  lines,  planar  shapes,  and  volumetric  elements  are 
combined  at  will.  The  "war  of  opposites,"  the  disharmony  that 
inevitably  arose  between  surface-planarity  and  spatiality,  was 
further  exacerbated  by  Lissitzky 's  mixing  of  perspectives;  he 
constructed  almost  every  form  according  to  a  different 
vanishing  point.  The  result  was  that  each  element  "flew"  into 
the  composition  along  with  the  space  it  occupied  and  the  sdvig 
(dislocation  or  shift)  of  colliding  spaces  provoked  frustration  in 
the  viewer  (the  sdvig,  of  course,  would  become  a  favorite  device 
of  the  Constructivists). 

Lissitzky  devised  the  name  proun  (from  proekt  Unovisa 
[project  of  Unovis}  or  proekt  utverzbdeniia  novogo  [project  of  the 
affirmation  of  the  new])  for  these  works  only  following  the 
birth  of  Unovis;  one  does  not  encounter  the  term  before  mid- 
1920.  (In  Lissitzky 's  texts  in  the  Unovis  Almanac  No.  1,  the  word 
"proun"  was  not  employed  once,  even  though  a  version  of  the 
composition  celebrated  thereafter  as  Proun  iA:  Most  I.  Eskiz 
[Sketch  for  Proun  iA:  Bridge  1,  1919—20,  plate  no.  205]  appeared 
as  an  illustration  to  one  of  his  pieces.  The  formulations 
Lissitzky  did  use  in  the  Almanac — "projects  for  new  forms  of 
utilitarian  structures,"  "elaboration  of  tasks  of  the  new 
architecture,"  and  "projects  for  monumental  decorations" — 
show  him  groping  for  the  label  that  would  carry  such  weight 
in  the  future.) 

From  the  beginning,  Lissitzky  rejected  any  and  all 
orientations  in  space  for  his  prouns;  he  intended  them  to  have 
neither  top  nor  bottom,  hence  his  use  of  varying  perspectives. 
It  was  in  the  logic  of  three-dimensional  forms,  however,  that 
they  gradually  grew  heavy,  were  pulled  "to  earth,"  and 
demanded  a  reckoning  with  the  laws  of  gravity.  (It  might  be 
noted  that  Iakerson,  also  an  architect  by  training — like 
Lissitzky,  he  had  studied  in  the  architecture  and  building 
faculty  of  the  Riga  Polytechnic  Institute,  but  his  enthusiasm 
for  sculpture  won  out  over  his  other  interests;  at  the  Vitebsk 
Popular  Art  School,  Iakerson  replaced  Ivan  Til'berg  as  head  of 
the  sculpture  workshop'9 — made  abundant  use  of  three- 
dimensional  forms  in  his  work  during  1920,  yet  he  did  so — 
and  from  the  start — entirely  in  accordance  with  the  laws  of 

This  adaptation  of  the  principles  of  architectural  drawing 
to  Suprematism  (a  venture  similar  to  that  in  which  Gustav 
Klutsis  was  engaged  at  about  the  same  time  as  Lissitzky,  and 
perhaps  even  somewhat  earlier)  would  be  a  catalyst  for 
Malevich's  arkhitektons. 

The  practical  needs  of  the  new  state  and  of  Soviet  public 
life,  which  yielded  Unovis  commissions  for  decorations  for 
speaker's  rostrums  to  be  used  at  mass  meetings  and 
demonstrations,  were  another  factor  in  Suprematism's  turn 
toward  architecture  during  the  Vitebsk  years.  Initially, 
Malevich,  Lissitzky,  and  others  confined  themselves  to 
decorating  the  rostrums'  facades  with  Suprematist  designs,  into 
which  they  worked  slogans  and  inscriptions,  and  did  not  alter 


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fig- 5 

"Unovis  Questionnaire, "  ip20—2i. 


the  basic  shape  of  these  primitive  structures  (plate  nos.  130, 
147).  However,  Chashnik — one  of  the  most  talented  of 
Malevich's  followers  and  only  twenty-six  at  the  time  of  his 
death  in  1929 — created  a  project  for  a  "tribune  under  the  sign 
of  Suprematism"  for  a  square  in  Smolensk.  Chashnik's  project, 
illustrated  in  one  of  Unovis's  publications  (fig.  no.  4),  was  later 
developed  by  Lissitzky  (plate  nos.  140— 141)  and  served  as  the 
basis  for  his  Leninskaia  tribuna  {Lenin  Tribune.  1924,  plate 
no.  142).  Though  acclaim  for  the  Tribune  accrued  solely  to 
Lissitzky,  he  always  emphasized  that  the  work  was  an  "Unovis 

Malevich's  Suprematist  system  was  born  of  the  all- 
embracing  Cbernyi  kvadrat  {Black  Square,  1915).  The  abyss  of  the 
Black  Square,  its  philosophical  ambiguity — it  constituted  both 
"all"  and  "nothing,"  both  "non-objectivity"  and  "omni- 
objectivity" — made  Malevich's  masterpiece  a  sui-generis 
"project,"  a  dense  nucleus  of  meanings  that  Malevich  spent  his 
entire  life  extrapolating.  Suprematist  paintings — self-sufficient 
and  primary  "in  the  ranks  of  all  the  things  of  the  world" — were 
the  first  issue  of  the  Black  Square  and  its  infinitude:  "With  his 
brush  the  artist  creates  a  new  sign;  this  sign  is  not  a  form  for 
apprehending  what  has  already  been  prepared,  built,  and 
brought  into  existence  in  the  world — it  is  a  sign  of  the  new,  of 
what  is  in  the  process  of  being  built  and  appearing  in  nature 
through  the  artist."20  These  Suprematist  canvases  were, 
Malevich  wrote,  sign-projects  containing  "proto-images  of  the 
technical  organisms  of  the  future  Suprematist  [world]."11  Thus 
projection — the  creation  of  blueprints  or  plans  of  the  future 
Suprematist  organization  of  the  world — became  the  essential 
hallmark  of  Unovis's  collective  work  and  "project"  the  chief 
label  for  its  production  (a  1920  Unovis  periodical,  for  example, 
authored  by  Chashnik  and  Khidekel',  was  entitled  Aero.  Stat'i 
1  proekty  [Aero:  Articles  and  Projects]). 

The  "utilitarian  world  of  things"  so  passionately  proclaimed 
by  Unovis  did  not  coincide  with  the  world  that,  during  the 
same  period,  the  Productivists  (the  future  Constructivists)  were 
seeking  to  create.  Malevich  and  the  members  of  Unovis  wished 
to  comprehend  the  "real"  foundations  of  the  universe  and  its 
"organic-natural  transformation" — Suprematism  acquired  an 
ontological  dimension.  Malevich  devoted  virtually  all  of  his 
time  in  Vitebsk  to  the  writing  of  philosophical  and  theoretical 
treatises — some  of  which  have  yet  to  be  published21 — which 
defined  the  nature  of  the  "utilitarian  organisms"  that  made  up 
the  "unified  system  of  the  world  architecture  of  the  earth."  The 
most  advanced  among  Unovis's  members  understood  and 
shared  Malevich's  views.  Chashnik,  for  example,  conceived 
Suprematist  works  (which  he  called  outright  "blueprints"  and 
"plans")  as  projects  for  and  instruments  of  a  new  universe  and  a 
new  systematization  of  the  world.  The  aims  of  the  architectural 
and  technical  faculty  created  in  Vitebsk  in  1921  included, 
according  to  Chashnik,  "study  of  the  system  of  Suprematist 
projection  and  the  designing  of  blueprints  and  plans  in 
accordance  with  it;  ruling  off  the  earth's  expanse  into  squares, 
giving  each  energy  cell  its  place  in  the  overall  scheme; 
organization  and  accommodation  on  the  earth's  surface  of  all  its 
intrinsic  elements,  charting  those  points  and  lines  out  of  which 
the  forms  of  Suprematism  will  ascend  and  slip  into  space."2' 

The  differentiation  of  real'nost' { reality)  from  deistvitel'nost' 
(actuality)  was  one  of  the  foundations  of  Malevich's  theory. 
"Reality"  lay  concealed  behind  the  world's  objective  envelope, 
and  this  envelope  had  to  be  torn  open  and  the  shackles  of 
predmetnost' (objectivity)  and  razum  (reason)  broken  in  order  to 
ensure  the  appearance  of  a  new  "Realism" — first  in  art  and 
subsequently  in  the  world  at  large.  "Actuality,"  by  contrast, 
was  illusoriness  incarnate,  enslaving  man's  soul.  Malevich  and 
the  members  of  Unovis  aspired  to  create  a  new  "reality," 
whereas  the  Productivists  and  Constructivists  remained,  in  the 


1920   Bnteficu 

fig.  6 

Unovis  seal,  reproduced  in  Lissitzky  s  A  Suprematist  Tale  about 

Two  Squares,  1922. 


Unovis  view,  servants  of  "actuality"  ("lackeys  of  the  factory  and 
of  production,"  as  Malevich  acerbically  described  them).  The 
rivalry  between  Malevich  and  Vladimir  Tatlin — who  had  taken 
non-objectivity  in  such  contradictory  directions — went  back 
many  years24  and  was  manifest  at  the  start  of  the  1920s  in  the 
competition  between  Unovis  and  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of 
Artistic  Culture)  and  between  Unovis  and  Obmokhu.  The  feud 
came  into  the  open  in  December  1921,  when  more  than  two 
hundred  Unovis  works  were  exhibited  at  Inkhuk  (members  of 
Unovis  were  there  to  elucidate  their  displays,  while  Malevich 
delivered  a  lecture  and  participated  in  discussions)."  The 
antagonism  between  Suprematism  and  Constructivism  was 
plain  to  see;  the  two  movements  seemed  opposite  poles  in  the 
artistic  transformation  of  the  world. 

(Lissitzky  had  been  in  Moscow  from  the  end  of  1920.  A 
member  of  Inkhuk,  he  espoused  a  diluted,  compromised 
version  of  Suprematism.  Lissitzky  and  Malevich  had  gone 
radically  different  ways,  though  their  personal  relations — 
unlike  those  between  Tatlin  and  Malevich — remained  intact. 
The  title  of  the  journal  founded  by  Lissitzky  and  Il'ia  Erenburg 
in  Berlin  in  1922,  Veshch'/Gegenstand/Objet  [Object],  was  a 
programmatic  one,  announcing  a  certain  polemic  with  the 
"non-objectivity"  [or  "omni-objectivity"]  of  Suprematism.) 

The  tension  between  the  poles  of  Suprematism  and 
Constructivism  that  colored  numerous  areas  of  early  Soviet 
artistic  life  existed  inside  Unovis,  as  well.  It  was  not  Lissitzky 
alone  who  integrated  impulses  from  one  and  the  other  system. 
The  canvases  of  Iudin  and  Tsiperson — who  were  staunch 
adherents  of  Unovis — used  layers  of  paint  to  achieve  relief 
effects;  incorporated  sawdust,  shavings,  sand,  and  even  seeds; 
and  are  evidence  of  the  study  in  Vitebsk  of  the  properties  of 
heterogeneous  materials  and  of  attention  to  faktura  (density). 
Moreover,  certain  members  of  Unovis — Veksler,  Kogan, 
Georgii  Noskov,  Suetin,  Khidekel',  Chashnik,  and  Iudin — 
graduated  from  the  Vitebsk  Practical  Art  Institute  with  the 
title  of  "artist-Constructivist."26 

Unovis's  pedagogical  system  was  an  integral  part  of  its 
work.  Even  while  Chagall  was  still  at  the  helm  of  the  Vitebsk 
Popular  Art  School,  Unovis  proclaimed  the  creation  of  a 
"Unified  Painting  Audience."  When  Chagall  left  in  June  1920, 
Ermolaeva  became  the  school's  director;  when  the  school  was 
reorganized  as  the  Vitebsk  Practical  Art  Institute,  she  became 
rector  and  remained  in  that  position  until  her  own  departure 
for  Petrograd  in  the  summer  of  1922  (Malevich  was  chairman  of 
the  Council  of  Professors).  The  Unified  Painting  Audience  was 
based  on  the  program  evolved  by  Malevich  in  the  Moscow  and 
Petrograd  State  Free  Art  Workshops.  Ermolaeva  and  Kogan 
bore  primary  responsibility  for  putting  that  program  into 
effect  in  Vitebsk,  with  Kogan  in  charge  of  the  introductory 
course  and  Ermolaeva  supervising  students'  methodical 
progress  through  the  disciplines  of  Cezannism,  Cubism,  and 
Cubo-Futurism.  (This  advancement  "from  Cezanne  to 
Suprematism"  replicated  Malevich's  own  evolution.)  Malevich's 
role  was  to  analyze  student  assignments  and  independent  work 
through  lectures  and  conversations  intended  to  "diagnose"  a 
student's  talents  and  possibilities. 

The  implementation  of  Malevich's  program  did  not, 
however,  go  entirely  smoothly,  and  his  analysis  of  the  obstacles 
and  their  causes,  as  well  as  his  careful  observation  of  students' 
progress  in  apprehending  the  different  systems  of  painting,  led 
him  to  what  he  subsequently  labeled  the  "theory  of  the 
additional  element  [pribavochnyi  element]  in  painting."  (In 
Vitebsk,  Malevich  used  the  terms  dobavka  [supplement]  and 
dobavocbnyi  element  [supplementary  element].)  The  essence  of  his 
theory  was  that  each  new  trend  in  painting  represented  an 
artistic  complex  begotten  by  one  specific  plastic  "gene,"  a  kind 
of  formula-sign  from  which,  as  from  the  nucleus  of  a  cell,  the 
complex  organisms  of  Impressionism,  Cezannism,  Cubism,  and 

fig-  7 

Members  of  Unovis,  ip2i.  From  left,  foreground:  Suetin  (with  black 
square  sewn  to  his  sleeve),  Efros,  Veksler,  Roiak,  unidentified,  and 
Chervinko:  background:  Iudin,  Chashnik,  Ermolaeva,  Khidekel'. 
Kogan,  and  Malevich. 


fig.  8 

View  of  the  Unovis  display  at  the  Petrograd  Artists  of  All  Trends 

exhibition,  1923. 

fig- 9 

Kazimir  Malevich 

"Unovis  (Aff{irmers)  of  New  Forms  in  Art):  Manifesto  of  the 

Suprematists.  "  May  2,  1924. 

Malevich  Archive.  Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 

so  on  evolved.  The  straight  line — the  track  of  a  point  moving 
in  space,  and  Suprematism's  fundamental  stylistic 
component — was  declared  the  Suprematist  "gene." 
Suprematism's  "additional  element"  was,  however,  a  summit 
few  of  Malevich's  followers  attained  (Malevich  critiqued  the 
work  of  Ermolaeva  and  Kogan  no  less  than  that  of  his 
students).  In  1925,  in  his  article  "Vvedenie  v  teoriiu 
pribavochnogo  elementa  v  zhivopisi"  ("Introduction  to  the 
Theory  of  the  Additional  Element  in  Painting"),  Malevich 
would  emphasize  the  Vitebsk  origins  of  his  theory  and  claim 
that  many  of  his  students  had  been  "ill"  from  the  additional 
element  of  Cezanne's  painting,  and  that  they  had  found  the 
Cezannist  Fal'k  more  attractive  than  himself  (Fal'k  taught  in 
Vitebsk  for  several  months  in  1921,  and  took  a  number  of 
Vitebsk  students  with  him  to  the  Moscow  Vkhutemas  [the 
Higher  Artistic-Technical  Workshops];  though  Fal'k  was  a 

£**<W  /  y*J.  ******  +*juU  Itvuff^i^/ 

{^TMMjl  Mm  s>>U4  0»i*  C  . 

*»     't 


(j*4+~,  fW^- 

4\.*j.M  I^T'  rft'fr  *  ^wfct-^F  ft  ft  *fflt*l£P'<l}i?*t  a. 

.•>'/.  J  f'ri'~rl'  '  '  *    *l"tfc'"<'1 

'  '        *   1   ill. 

\i  1 1  i  II  i^^^j 

|     ^Miftli'ii-tf       •*<* 
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•tyjmwdK+i,  leimmu*: 

•;■).->.   (Uuw   Ox^jt-  ^~p-*.j„ e<^<.<L*i~- 


member  of  the  "old  guard,"  Malevich  never  abandoned  his 
sympathy  and  respect  for  him)/7 

To  some  extent,  Unovis's  pedagogical  practices  also 
embodied  Malevich's  notions  of  "collective  reason"  and 
"collective  creative  work."  The  most  advanced  students  became 
teaching  assistants:  they  conducted  classes,  delivered  papers 
and  lectures,  and  discussed  and  evaluated  student  work  (and 
each  other's).  Gavris,  Georgii  Noskov,  Suetin,  Khidekel1, 
Chashnik,  and  Iudin  were  serving  in  such  a  capacity  by  1921. 
Khidekel'  and  Chashnik  were  responsible,  moreover,  for 
making  the  architectural  and  technical  faculty  the  apex  of  the 
school.  Chashnik  wrote  in  1921:  "The  study  and  apprehension 
of  all  systems  of  the  new  art  in  our  painting  faculties  lead  to 
the  ultimate  real  faculty,  the  architectural  and  technical 
faculty  .  .  .  The  architectural  and  technical  workshop  is  the 
crucible  of  all  the  other  faculties  of  Unovis,  to  which  all 
creative  individuals,  as  a  unified  collective  of  builders  of  the 
new  forms  of  the  world,  must  aspire."2* 

As  a  thinker,  Malevich  encouraged  reflection  and  theoretical 
speculation  in  his  followers,  and  under  his  demanding  tutelage, 
Kogan,  Khidekel',  Chashnik,  Iudin,  and  others  gradually 
revealed  a  talent  for  both  pedagogical  and  formal 
experimentation.  And  in  order  to  graduate  from  the  Vitebsk 
school,  a  student  had  not  only  to  present  the  Council  of 
Professors  with  an  art  work  as  his  diploma  project  but  to 
compose  a  theoretical  treatise.29  Chashnik  drew  a  "Skhema 
postroeniia  Vit[ebskikh]  gos[udarstvennykh} 
khudfozhestvennykh]  tekhnicheskikh  masterskikh" 
("Structural  Plan  of  the  Vit[ebsk]  St[ate]  Art[istic]-Technical 
Workshops"),  awarding  to  the  student  who  had  completed  all 
courses  the  title  of  "consummate  learned  architect."30  Iudin 
recorded  his  reflections  on  and  experiments  with  color  and 
form  (the  latter  conducted  in  close  contact  with  Ermolaeva)  in 
his  unique  diary  full  of  plans  and  tables.  With  the  help  of  his 
colleagues  in  Vitebsk,  Malevich  laid  the  foundations  of  the 
"creative  laboratory  institute"  which  had  been  envisioned  in 
the  "Agenda"  of  the  Council  for  the  Affirmation  of  New  Forms 
in  Art  and  which  would  become  a  reality  in  Ginkhuk. 

Malevich  was  the  author  of  a  vast  unified  oeuvre,  in  which 
the  plastic  and  the  verbal,  works  of  art  and  of  philosophy,  were 
aspects  of  a  single  creative  utterance  about  the  world.  The  same 
was  true  of  the  "collective  creative  work"  of  Unovis.  The  rich 
and  extensive  body  of  writings  by  Lissitzky,  Ermolaeva,  Kogan, 
Chashnik,  Khidekel',  Iudin,  Mikhail  Kunin,  Gavris,  Mikhail 
Noskov,  L.  Zuperman,  Osip  Bernshtein,  and  others  spans  a 
wide  range  of  genres — essays,  treatises,  explanatory  notes, 
programs,  projects,  diaries,  and  letters — and  is  crowned  by  the 
works  of  Malevich  himself,  which  were  published  under  the 
Unovis  imprint.  Unovis's  published  works  are,  however,  but 
the  tip  of  the  iceberg.  One  can  only  hope  that  the  important 
documents  still  held  in  archives  will  be  released  and  published 
in  the  near  future. 

It  had  been  owing  to  Chagall's  efforts,  during  his  tenure  as 
Commissar  of  Arts  for  Vitebsk,  that  a  number  of  canvases  by 
Russian  artists  of  all  movements — from  members  of  Mir 
iskusstva  (World  of  Art)  to  left  painters — had  been  sent  to  the 
city  to  form  the  basis  of  a  museum  of  contemporary  art.  Under 
Malevich's  influence — and  Malevich  had  been  one  of  the  most 
active  of  the  museum  reformers  during  the  first  months  of  the 
Soviet  state — the  Vitebsk  museum  was  quickly  transformed 
from  a  museum  of  contemporary  art  into  a  museum  of 
painterly  culture.  The  Vitebsk  museum  housed  the  fullest  and 
most  representative  collection  of  Russian  avant-garde  works — 
it  had  eighteen  canvases  by  Rozanova  alone — of  any  provincial 
museum  with  the  exception  of  the  Rostov  museum  (whose 
collection  had  been  assembled  by  Liubov'  Popova).  Space  for 
the  collection  in  Vitebsk  was  tight,  and  the  majority  of  the 

paintings  were  stored  at  the  Vitebsk  Practical  Art  Institute. 
Temporary  exhibitions  of  these  works,  often  installed  according 
to  Malevich's  instructions,  were  held  at  the  school  and  served 
as  material  for  his  lectures  and  critiques.  Malevich,  Iudin  wrote 
in  his  diary,  "rendered  a  diagnosis"  on  the  works  of  virtually 
every  member  of  the  Russian  avant-garde. 

Unovis  was  a  "party"  that  accepted  all  comers;  anyone — 
poet,  musician,  actor,  or  artisan — who  wished  to  promote  the 
"augmentation"  of  the  world  with  new  forms  could  join.  Natan 
Efros,  for  example,  who  would  become  famous  as  a  professional 
reader  and  reciter  of  poetry,  was  a  member  of  Unovis's 
Tvorkom  (the  Creative  Committee)  in  1921.  (Being  a  member 
of  Unovis  was  not,  however,  generally  synonymous  with  being 
a  Suprematist — the  Unovis  member  had  to  strive  to  become  a 
Suprematist.)  In  the  autumn  of  that  year,  Unovis,  in 
furtherance  of  its  goal  of  extending  its  influence  to  all  creative 
endeavors,  inaugurated  the  "Unovis  Evening,"  a  showcase  for 
contemporary  poetry,  music,  and  theater.  The  first  evening  in 
the  series,  held  on  September  17,  1921,  featured  Efros  in  a  solo 
performance  of  Maiakovskii's  Voina  i  mir  {War  and  the  Universe), 
with  stage  design  by  Ermolaeva  and  Tsiperson,  and  Malevich 
reading  his  own  poems." 

The  Unovis  "party,"  like  any  other,  had  its  own  program 
and  bylaws.  Applicants  were  required  to  complete  the  highly 
detailed  "Anketa  Unovisa"  ("Unovis  Questionnaire,"  fig.  no.  5). 
A  Working  Committee,  elected  by  all  members  and  soon 
renamed  the  Creative  Committee,  supervised  all  "party" 
activities.  (Once  branches  of  Unovis  had  been  established  in 
other  cities,  the  Vitebsk  committee  became  the  Central 
Creative  Committee.)  It  was  a  collegial  body,  with  no 
chairman;  Ermolaeva  was  its  secretary,  and  Bernshtein  its  clerk 
until  his  early  death  in  1922.  Important  documents  were 
endorsed  with  the  Unovis  seal  (fig.  no.  6),  which  had  been 
produced  from  a  drawing  by  Lissitzky.'2  Malevich,  Ermolaeva, 
and  Kogan  were  permanent  members  of  the  Creative 
Committee  during  1920-22;  Lissitzky,  Chashnik,  Khidekel', 
Gavris,  Suetin,  Georgii  Noskov,  Chervinko,  Iudin,  and  Efros 
all  served  on  the  committee  at  one  time  or  another. 

Unovis  either  organized  or  participated  in  a  number  of 
exhibitions,  the  first  in  Vitebsk  in  February  1920,  when  works 
by  members  of  Posnovis/Unovis  were  shown  as  part  of  the 
school's  student  showcase.  In  June  1920,  Unovis  exhibited  its 
works  at  the  First  All-Russian  Conference  of  Teachers  and 
Students  of  Art  in  Moscow.  A  one-day  Unovis  exhibition  was 
held  in  Vitebsk  on  March  28,  1921.  In  December  1921,  again  in 
Moscow,  Unovis  exhibited  at  Inkhuk."  At  a  display  in  Moscow 
in  March-April  1922  of  works  by  students  from  the  provincial 
art  schools,  those  by  Unovis  were  pronounced  the  most 
interesting.'4  Another  exhibition  was  held  in  Vitebsk  in  May 
1922.  At  the  Erste  ritssische  Kunstausstellung  (First  Russian  Art 
Exhibition)  in  Berlin  during  the  autumn  of  1922,  Unovis 
displayed  its  works  in  a  collective  entry.  Unovis  made  its  final 
appearance  at  the  Petrogradskie  kbudozbniki  vsekh  napravlenii 
(Petrograd  Artists  of  All  Trends)  exhibition  in  Petrograd  in  1923. 
Its  sixty-odd  entries,  ranging  from  Cubism  to  Suprematism, 
offered  a  summation  of  its  work  and  were  exhibited — the 
paintings  of  Malevich  not  excepted — under  the  group's  name 
(fig.  no.  8). 

Malevich  and  the  members  of  his  "party"  assumed  that 
branches  of  Unovis  would  be  established  throughout  the 
world,  and  made  several  efforts  at  entering  on  the  international 
stage.  Unovis  sent  materials  to  Germany  in  1921,  for  instance, 
and  addressed  a  letter  to  Dutch  artists  in  February  1922." 
Suprematism  was  "exported"  to  Poland  by  Strzemihski  and 
Kobro,  who  moved  there  in  the  early  1920s,  and  it  served  as  the 
point  of  departure  for  Strzemihski's  Unizm  (Unism) — a  Polish 
term  that  echoed  the  Russian  "Unovism." 


When  he  established  the  Bauhaus,  Walter  Gropius 
proclaimed  a  "joyfully  creating  commune,  for  which  the 
Masonic  lodges  of  the  Middle  Ages  are  the  ideal  prototype"  as 
his  goal.  With  its  own  watchword  (the  "transrational"  U-el-el'- 
ul-el-te-ka),  bylaws,  program,  and  emblems,  Unovis  was  akin  to 
such  a  Masonic  lodge.  The  Unovis  fraternity's  ritual  extended 
even  to  the  clothing  of  its  members — Malevich  himself  was  a 
prime  example:  his  white  apparel  and  white  hat  dramatized  his 
passage  into  white  Suprematism,  which  carried  the  "white 
world  (world-structure),  affirming  the  sign  of  purity  of  man's 
creative  life."  And  in  his  diary  Iudin  mentions  sewing  a  special 
Unovis  red  jacket. 

Unovis  took  as  its  motto  Malevich's  Suprematist  slogan: 
"The  overturning  of  the  old  world  of  arts  will  be  etched  across 
your  palms,"  to  which,  a  short  while  later,  "Wear  the  black 
square  as  a  sign  of  world  economy"  was  appended.  And  indeed, 
Unovis's  members  sewed  the  black  square,  their  "Masonic 
emblem,"  onto  the  cuffs  of  their  sleeves — the  part  of  their 
clothing  nearest  their  palms  (fig.  no.  7).  Only  Lissitzky 
employed  the  red  square  as  an  emblem  of  Unovis  (in  his  design 
for  its  seal),  and  that  was  in  tribute  to  the  prevailing 
atmosphere  in  society:  "Draw  the  red  square  in  your  workshops 
as  a  sign  of  the  world  revolution  in  the  arts."  Malevich  and  the 
true  Unovis  Suprematists  always  considered  the  black  square — 
the  "icon"  and  "zero  form"  of  Suprematism — to  be  the  symbol 
of  Unovis. 

The  transfer  of  art-educational  institutions  from  the 
jurisdiction  of  Narkompros  to  that  of  Glavprofobr  (the  Chief 
Administration  for  Professional  Education)  in  1921  marked  the 
beginning  of  difficult  times  for  Unovis.  The  Vitebsk  teachers 
went  unpaid  for  a  considerable  period;  neither  the  central  nor 
the  local  authorities  offered  the  school  any  support.  Unovis's 
Utopian  trust  in  the  Soviet  government's  desire  to  build  a  new 
life  on  the  basis  of  new  forms  in  art  was  shattered  and  revealed 
as  untenable. 

Ten  students  were  graduated  from  the  Vitebsk  Practical  Art 
Institute  in  May  1922,  after  which  Unovis  ceased  its  activity  in 
Vitebsk.  By  the  beginning  of  June,  Malevich  was  in  Petrograd, 
to  which  Ermolaeva  also  returned;  one  after  another,  numerous 
members  of  Unovis — including  Suetin,  Khidekel',  Chashnik, 
Iudin,  Khaia  Kagan,  Magaril,  and  Efim  Roiak — followed  suit. 
Many  among  them  became  associates  of  the  Institute  for  the 
Study  of  the  Culture  of  Contemporary  Art  at  the  Museum  of 
Artistic  Culture  (later  Ginkhuk),  where  Malevich  had  been 
named  director.  Yet  even  in  Petrograd/Leningrad,  Malevich 
was  unwilling  to  part  with  Unovis.  His  draft  of  "Unovis 
(utv{erditeli]  novykh  form  Iskusstva).  Manifest  suprematistov" 
("Unovis  [Aff(irmers)  of  the  New  Forms  in  Art]:  Manifesto  of 
the  Suprematists,"  fig.  no.  9)  dates  from  May  1924. '6  And  at  the 
end  of  1924,  in  an  open  letter  to  artists  in  Holland,  Malevich 
argued  the  necessity  of  creating  "Unovises"  throughout  the 

Malevich's  efforts  to  revive  Unovis  in  new  soil  did  not, 
however,  meet  with  success.  Under  the  weight  of  changed 
living  conditions  and  social  patterns,  the  phenomenon  born  in 
Vitebsk  vanished.  The  future  will  tell  us  the  true  worth  of  the 
rich  legacy  that  was  left  behind. 

— Translated,  from  the  Russian,  by  Jane  Bobko 


1.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Mikhail  Matiushin,  September  8, 
1917,  Manuscript  Division,  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow, 

f.  XXV/9,  1.  21. 

2.  On  the  circumstances  of  Malevich's  move  to  Vitebsk,  see 
A.  Shatskikh,  "K.  Malevich  v  Vitebske,"  Iskusstvo  11  (1988), 
pp.  38-43. 

3.  Kazimir  Malevich,  letter  to  Ol'ga  Gromozova,  1920, 
Manuscript  Division,  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow, 

f.  XXV/9,  1.  i3-i3ob.  Published  in  Shatskikh,  "K.  Malevich 
v  Vitebske,"  p.  43. 

4.  The  first  instances  of  Lazar1  Lisitskii's  use  of  the  "article"  El, 
and  then  El',  are  to  be  found  in  the  Unovis  Almanac  No.  1.  With 
the  switch  to  German  and  the  Latin  alphabet,  he  signed  his 
name  "El  Lissitzky."  There  are  no  grounds  for  the  belief  that 
Lissitzky  chose  el' because  that  is  the  pronunciation  in  the 
Russian  alphabet  for  the  letter  /,  his  first  initial;  at  the  time, 
the  word  liudi  was  the  guide  to  pronunciation.  There  is  no 
question  that  Lissitzky 's  unusual  name,  hardly  a  pseudonym, 
was  inspired  by  Malevich's  highly  musical  "transrational"  line, 
which  had  deep  meaning  for  the  members  of  Unovis;  Malevich 
cited  it  repeatedly,  and  Chashnik's  1924  inscription  in  his 
fiancee's  album  called  on  her  to  "remember  this  madman  .  .  . 
whose  way  of  life  is  U -EL-EL. "  See  llya  Grigorevich  Chashnik: 
Lyucitel 1902-Leningradl ip2p:  Watercolors,  Drawings,  Reliefs. 
catalogue  for  exhibition  at  Leonard  Hutton  Galleries  (New 
York:  Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  1979),  p.  n. 

5.  Moisei  Lerman,  conversation  with  author,  Moscow,  June  15, 

6.  N.  Kogan,  "O  suprematicheskom  balete,"  Al'manakh  Unovis 
No.  1,  1.  21. 

7.  The  date — April  14th — given  in  Larissa  A.  Shadowa,  Suche 
und  Experiment:  Aus  der  Geschichte  der  russischen  und  soujetischen 
Kunst  zwischen  ipio  und  1930,  trans.  Helmut  Barth  (Dresden: 
VEB  Verlag  der  Kunst,  1978),  p.  309,  and  in  Shatskikh, 

"K.  Malevich  v  Vitebske"  is  incorrect. 

8.  The  Unovis  Almanac  No.  /was  "constructed"  in  five 
typewritten  copies.  Lissitzky 's  use  of  the  verb  stroit' (to 
construct),  an  obvious  synonym  for  konstruirovat ',  is  highly 
revealing  of  his  evolving  approach  to  the  "construction  of  the 
book."  The  Unovis  Almanac  No.  /played  a  significant  role  in 
the  development  of  Lissitzky 's  book  design. 

Today  there  are  two  known  copies  of  the  Almanac,  one  in 
private  hands  in  Moscow,  the  other  in  the  Manuscript  Division, 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow,  f.  76/9.  All  references  in  this 
essay  to  the  Almanac  are  to  the  latter  copy.  A  good  portion  of 
the  contents  of  the  Almanac  has  been  published  in  Shadowa, 
Suche  und  Experiment,  pp.  303—17. 

9.  K.  Malevich,  "O  'la'  i  kollektive,"  Al'manakh  Unovis  No.  1. 
1.  60b. 

10.  See  Aleksandra  Shatskikh,  "A  Brief  History  of  Obmokhu," 
in  this  volume. 

11.  Kazimir  Malevich,  note,  May  30,  1927,  Malevich  Archives, 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam.  Reproduced  in  Kazimir 
Malevich,  1878-ip^,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the 
State  Russian  Museum,  Leningrad,  the  State  Tretiakov  Gallery, 
Moscow,  and  the  Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam  (Amsterdam 
and  Moscow:  Stedelijk  Museum,  1988),  p.  52. 

12.  See  Alexandra  Shatskikh,  "Chagall  and  Malevich  in 
Vitebsk.  History  of  their  relations,"  Bulletin  AlCARC  1-2 
(1989),  pp.  7-10. 


13.  The  "Plan  raboty  Soveta"  has  been  published  in  Shadowa, 
Suche  und  Experiment,  p.  317. 

14.  "Materialy  I-oi  Vserossiiskoi  konferentsii  uchashchikh 
i  uchashchikhsia  iskusstvu,"  1920,  Central  State  Archive 
of  Russia,  Moscow,  f.  2306,  op.  23,  d.  116.  See  also 

G.  L.  Demosfenova,  "K  istorii  pedagogicheskoi  deiatel'nosti 
K.  S.  Malevicha,"  in  Stranitsy  istorii  otechestvennogo  dizaina, 
Trudy  VNIITE,  vyp.  59  (Moscow:  Vsesoiuznyi  nauchno- 
issledovatel'skii  institut  tekhnicheskoi  estetiki,  1989), 
pp.  143-70. 

15.  K.  Malevich,  Suprematizm.  34  risi/nka  (Vitebsk:  Unovis, 
1920),  p.  4. 

16.  K.  Malevich,  "Arkhitektura  kak  poshchechina  betono- 
zhelezu,"  Anarkhtia  37  (April  6,  1918). 

17.  See  Shadowa,  Suche  und  Experiment,  pp.  90-94. 

18.  See  S.  O.  Khan-Magomedov,  "L.  Lisitskii.  Rol1  v 
stileobrazuiushchikh  protsessakh  i  v  stanovlenii  dizaina,"  in 
Stranitsy  istorii  oteckestvennogo  dizaina,  pp.  24-43,  ar>d  "Novyi 
stil1,  ob"emnyi  suprematizm  i  prouny,"  in  Lazar' Markovich 
Lisitskii,  i8po-ip4i,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the 
State  Tretiakov  Gallery,  Moscow,  and  the  Stedelijk  van 
Abbemuseum,  Eindhoven  (Moscow  and  Eindhoven:  Stedelijk 
van  Abbemuseum,  1990),  pp.  35—42. 

19.  On  Iakerson,  see  A.  Shatskikh,  "Dereviannaia  skul'ptura 
D.  Iakersona,"  in  Sovetskaia  skid'ptura  8  (Moscow:  Sovetskii 
khudozhnik,  1984),  pp.  160-69. 

20.  Al'manakb  Unovis  No.  1,  1.  120b. 

21.  Malevich,  Suprematizm,  p.  2. 

22.  A  number  of  Malevich's  previously  unpublished  texts 
appear  in  D.  Sarab'ianov  and  A.  Shatskikh,  Kazimir  Malevich. 
Zhivopis'.  Teoriia,  forthcoming. 

23.  II.  Chashnik,  "Arkhitekturno-tekhnicheskii  fakul'tet," 
UNOVIS  2  (January  1921),  p.  14. 

24.  See  Charlotte  Douglas,  "Tatlin  and  Malevich:  History  and 
Theory  1914-1915"  (Paper  delivered  at  the  international 
symposium,  Vladimir  Tatlin.  Leben.  Werk.  Wirkung, 
Stadtische  Kunsthalle,  Dusseldorf,  November  25—27,  1989). 

25.  See  Vassilii  Rakitin,  "Malevich  und  Inkhuk,"  in  Kasimir 
Malewitsch  zum  100.  Geburtstag,  catalogue  for  exhibition 
organized  by  the  Galerie  Gmurzynska,  Cologne  (Cologne: 
Galerie  Gmurzynska,  1978),  pp.  284-98. 

26.  "Spisok  okonchivshikh  Khudozhestvenno-prakticheskii 
institut  v  1922  godu  v  mae  mesiatse,"  State  Vitebsk  Regional 
Archive,  f.  246,  op.  1,  d.  260,  sviazka  17,  1.  3900b. 

27.  K.  Malevich,  "Sorok  piat'.  Vvedenie  v  teoriiu 
pribavochnogo  elementa  v  zhivopisi,"  1925,  private  archive, 
Moscow,  pp.  21-22.  Malevich  wrote  a  brief  article  on  Fal'k  in 
1924.  See  K.  S.  Malevich,  "Fal'k,"  in  K.  S.  Malevich,  The  Artist, 
Infinity,  Suprematism:  Unpublished  Writings,  1P13-33,  ed.  Troels 
Andersen,  trans.  Xenia  Hoffmann  (Copenhagen:  Borgens 
Forlag,  1978),  pp.  125-27. 

28.  Chashnik,  "Arkhitekturno-tekhnicheskii  fakul'tet,"  p.  12, 

29.  Iudin's  diaries  for  1922  contain  sketches  for  his  diploma 
work  (Manuscript  Division,  State  Saltykov-Shchedrin  Public 
Library,  St.  Petersburg,  f.  1000).  For  Chashnik's  diploma  work 
on  "Metod  suprematizma"  ("The  Suprematist  Method"),  see 
llya  Grigorevich  Chashnik,  pp.  20-24. 

30.  llya  Grigorevich  Chashnik,  no.  57. 

31.  Izvestiia  Vitebskogo  gubernskogo  Soveta  krest'ianskikh,  rabochikh 
i  soldatskikh  deputatov  208  (1920). 

32.  Lissitzky's  drawing  for  the  Unovis  seal  was  reproduced  on 
the  final  page  of  his  Suprematicheskii  skaz  pro  dva  kvadrata 
(Berlin:  Skify,  1922).  Chashnik's  "Structural  Plan  of  the 
Vittebsk]  St[ate]  Art[istic]-Technical  Workshops"  is  one  of  the 
documents  that  bear  the  seal.  See  llya  Grigorevich  Chashnik, 

no.  57. 

33.  This  information  comes  from  documents  in  the  State 
Vitebsk  Regional  Archive,  f.  837,  op.  1,  ed.  khr.  59,  1.  63,  87, 

34.  Vestnik  iskusstv  3-4  (1922),  pp.  27-28. 

35.  K.  S.  Malevich,  "A  Letter  to  the  Dutch  Artists,"  in 

K.  S.  Malevich,  Essays  on  Art,  Ipi$-ip33,  ed.  Troels  Andersen, 
trans.  Xenia  Glowacki-Prus  and  Arnold  McMillin  (London: 
Rapp  &  Whiting,  1969),  vol.  1,  pp.  183-87.  The  fate  of  the 
materials  sent  to  Germany  is  unknown. 

36.  K.  Malevich,  "Unovis  (utv[erditeli]  novykh  form 
Iskusstva).  Manifest  suprematistov,"  May  2,  1924,  Malevich 
Archive,  Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 

37.  K.  Malevich,  "Otkrytoe  pis'mo  gollandskim 
khudozhnikam  Van-Gofu  i  Bekmanu,"  Zhizn' iskusstva  50 
(1924),  pp.  13-14. 



Kazimir  Malevich 

Red  Square  (Painterly  Realism: 
Peasant  Woman  in  Two  Dimensions), 

Oil  on  canvas,  S3  x  $}  cm- 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Supremacist  Painting:  Eight  Red 

Rectangles.  191$. 

Oil  on  canvas.  57.  J  x  48. 5  cm. 

Stedeltjk  Museum.  Amsterdam. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Four  Squares.  1915. 

Oil  on  canvas,  49  x  49  cm. 

State  Radishchef  Art  Museum.  Saratov. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Supremacist  Painting,  /p/y. 
Oil  on  canvas,  ioi.fx  62  cm. 

Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Untitled,  ca.  1916. 

Oil  on  canvas,  jj  x  53  cm. 

Peggy  Guggenheim  Collection,  Venice, 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematism:  Non-Objecrive 
Composition,  igi6. 
Oil  on  canvas,  80  x  80  cm. 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Ekaterinburg. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Dynamic  Suprematism  (Supremus 

No.  57).  1916. 

Oil  on  canvas.  80.3  x  80. 2  cm. 

Tate  Gallery.  Purchased  with  assistance 
from  the  Friends  of  the  Tate  Gallery. 



Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematism,  191S-16. 
Oil  on  canvas,  80  x  80  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts.  Krasnodar. 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematism:  Yellow  and  Black, 


Oil  on  canvas,  jy.  5  x  70.  $  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematist  Composition.  191J. 

Oil  on  canvas.  97. 8  x  66.4  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art.  New  York. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Black  Square,  1929. 

Oil  on  canvas,  80  x  80  cm. 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 



Ivan  Kliun 

Ozonizer,  1914. 

Oil  on  canvas,  j$x  66  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Landscape  Rushing  By.  ca.  1914-15. 
Oil  on  wood,  wire,  metal,  and  porcelain, 
j 4  x  $8  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 
Gift  George  Costakis. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Non-Objective,  1914-15. 
Oil  on  canvas,  ji  x  62  cm. 
Astrakhan  Kustodiev  Picture  Gallery. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Landscape  Rushing  By,  1914. 
Oil  on  canvas,  55.  J  x  61  cm. 
Regional  Art  Museum,  Kirov. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Supremacist  Composition.  1916. 

Oil  an  board,  35  x  23  cm. 

Wilhelm  Hack  Museum.  Ludwigshafen. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Non-Objective  Composition: 
Suprematism,  ipi/. 
Oil  on  canvas,  49  x  44  cm. 
State  Art  Museum.  laroslavl'. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Suprematism.  1915. 

Oil  on  canvas.  89  x  70. 7  cm. 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  ipi/. 

Oil  on  paper,  2j  x  22.  J  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled.  1917. 

Oil  on  paper,   x  22. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  1917. 

Oil  on  paper.  27  x  22. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  1917. 

Oil  on  paper,  2J  x  22. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis. 



Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  Ipl/. 

Oil  on  paper.  2j  x  22. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis. 



Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  ipl/. 

Oil  on  paper.  2/  x  22. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Ivan  Kliun 

Untitled,  1917. 

Oil  on  paper,  27  x  22.  $  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Vera  Pestel' 

Still  Life.  1915. 

Oil  on  canvas,  66. 5  x  49  cm. 

State  Art  Museum,  Nizhnii  Novgorod. 


Vera  Pestel' 

Still  Life,  1917-18. 
Oil  on  canvas,  78.5  x  jo  cm. 
State  Museum  of  Fine  Arts, 
Nizhnii  Tagil. 

i.  .j.      »i*£= 


Samuil  Adlivankin 

Still  Life:  Non-Objective 
Composition.  Ip20. 
Oil  on  board.  52. 5  x  41  cm. 
State  Art  Museum,  laroslavl'. 


Ivan  Puni 

Supremacist  Composition,  ipi$. 
Oil  on  canvas,  86.$  x  $6.$  cm. 
Private  collection,  Zurich. 


Ivan  Puni 

Still  Life:  Relief  with  Hammer, 
1914,  restored  1920  by  the  artist. 
Gouache  on  cardboard  with  hammer, 
80. 5  x  6<j.  $  x  p  cm. 
Private  collection.  Zurich. 


Ivan  Puni 

Baths.  191$. 

Oil  on  canvas,  with  artist-painted  frame, 

73  x  92  cm. 

Private  collection,  Zurich. 


Ivan  Puni 

Relief  with  Saw,  ipi$. 

Wood,  sheet  iron,  cardboard,  glass,  and 

gouache,  76  x  72  x  if  cm. 

Private  collection,  Zurich. 


Ivan  Puni 

Supremacist  Relief,  ipif. 

Oil  and  gouache  on  wood,  cardboard, 

and  tin,  70  x  50  x  p  cm. 

Private  collection,  Zurich. 



Ivan  Puni 

Supremacist  Relief  Sculpture.  191$. 

reconstruction  igios. 

Painted  wood,  metal,  and  cardboard 

mounted  on  wood  panel, 

$0.8  x  jp.j  x  j.  6  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  Neu'  York. 

The  Riklis  Collection  of  McCrory 

Corporation  (fractional  gift).  198}. 




Aleksei  Morgunov 

(Non-Objective)  Composition. 
1 916-17. 

Oil  on  canvas,  88  x  65  cm. 
Regional  Art  Museum,  Kaluga. 


Aleksei  Morgunov 

Composition  No.  1,  1916—17. 
Oil  on  canvas.  Jl  x  62  cm. 
State  Lunacbarskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Mikhail  Men'kov 

Tramway  No.  6  (Cubism),  1914. 
Oil  on  canvas,  82  x  $1.  J  cm. 
State  Art  Museum,  Samara. 


Nadezhda  Udal'tsova 

Kitchen,  ipi$. 

Oil  on  canvas,  161  x  135  cm. 

Museum  of  Fine  Arts.  Ekaterinburg. 


Nadezhda  Udal'tsova 

Painterly  Construction,  ipi6. 
Oil  on  canvas,  106 x  79  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakw  Gallery,  Moscow. 



Mikhail  Men'kov 

Non-Objective,  ipip. 
Oil  on  canvas,  6}  x  $4  cm. 
State  Lunacbarskn  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Mikhail  Men'kov 

Newspaper.  ipi8. 

Oil  on  canvas,  Jl  x  jl  cm. 

State  Art  Museum,  Ulianovsk. 


Mikhail  Men'kov 

Symphony  (Violin),  igiS. 
Oil  on  canvas,  <5j  x  60.5  cm. 
State  Art  Museum.  Samara. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Room.  ipi;. 

Oil  on  canvas.  100  x  77  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition 
(Flight  of  an  Airplane).  ipi$. 
Oil  on  canvas,  118  x  101  cm. 
State  Art  Museum,  Samara. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Cupboard  with  Dishes,  1915. 
Oil  on  canvas,  62  x  }8  cm. 
State  Lunacharskn  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition,  ipi6. 

Oil  on  canvas,  78. 5  x  58  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition.  ipi6. 
Oil  on  canvas,  102  x  94  cm. 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Ekaterinburg. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition.  ipi6. 

Oil  on  canvas,  ji  x  66  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition,  1916. 
Oil  on  canvas,  po  x  74  cm. 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Ekaterinburg. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition.  1918. 

Oil  on  canvas,  62. 5  x  40.5  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Ol'ga  Rozanova 

Non-Objective  Composition,  ipij. 
Oil  on  canvas,  71  x  64  cm. 
State  Art  Museum,  Ulianovsk. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Movement  of  Planes.  1916-17. 
Oil  on  canvas,  p2.$x  /6  cm. 
State  Museum  of  Fine  Arts. 
Nizbmi  Tagil. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Constructive  Still  Life.  1917. 

Oil  on  canvas,  121  x  100  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Non-Objective,  1917. 
Oil  on  canvas.  71  x  53  cm. 
Stati  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts.  Krasnodar. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Dynamic  Composition,  igi6. 

Gouache  and  pencil  on  paper, 

66.  j  x  $o.  j  cm. 

Leonard  Hut  ton  Galleries,  New  York. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Objects,  ipif. 

Oil  on  canvas,  61  x  44.  $  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Jug  on  a  Table  (Plastic  Painting), 


Oil  on  cardboard  mounted  on  panel. 

59.1x43.3  cm. 

State  Tret'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 

Gift  George  Costakis. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Painterly  Architectonic  with 
Three  Stripes,  1916. 
Oil  on  canvas,  10 J  x  89  cm. 
Collection  E.  V.  Murina  and 
D.  V.  Sarab'ianov,  Moscow. 


Liubov1  Popova 

Portrait,  1916. 

Oil  on  canvas.  y_j.  S  x  355  cm- 

Irkutsk  Regional  Art  Museum. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Painterly  Architectonic.  1917. 

Oil  on  canvas.  S3SX  4°  cm- 

State  Surikov  Art  Museum.  Krasnoiarsk. 


Liubov1  Popova 

Painterly  Architectonic,  ipi/. 
Oil  on  canvas,  44  x  35.5  cm. 
Tobolsk  State  Historical- Architectural 


Liubov'  Popova 

Paincerly  Architectonic,  1917. 
Oil  on  canvas,  106  x  88  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Painterly  Architectonic,  1918. 

Oil  on  canvas,  10;  x  80  cm. 

Regional  Historical  Museum.  Sloboda. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Orange  Architectonic.  Ipi8. 
Oil  on  cardboard,  $p  x  jp.  5  cm. 
State  Art  Museum,  laroslavl'. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Painterly  Architectonic.  1918. 
Oil  on  canvas.  io$. s  x  8p  cm. 
Uzbekistan  State  Museum  of  Fine  Arts. 


Aleksandr  Vesnin 

Non-Objective  Composition. 


Oil  on  canvas.  Jj.  $  x  43  cm. 

State  Architecture  and  Art  Museum. 



Aleksandr  Vesnin 

Composition,  191J-18. 
Oil  on  canvas,  89. 4  x  ioy  cm. 

The  Rothschild  Art  Foundation. 


Vladimir  Tatlin 

Complex  Corner-Relief,  191$, 

reconstruction  no.  5  (edition  of  five)  1982 

by  Martyn  Chalk. 

Paint,  iron,  aluminum,  and  zinc, 

j8.8x  152. 4  x  76.2  cm. 

Courtesy  Annelyjuda  Fine  Art,  London. 


Vladimir  Tatlin 

Counter-Relief.  1914-15- 

Iron,  copper,  wood,  and  rope.  71  x  118  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Vladimir  Baranov-Rossine 

Non-Objective,  1918 

Oil  on  canvas,  71  x  51  cm. 

State  Radishchev  Art  Museum,  Saratov. 


Vladimir  Baranov-Rossine 

Composition.  1917—18. 
Oil  on  canvas,  70. 5  x  jz  <;  cm. 
State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 



Sofia  Dymshits-Tolstaia 

Glass  Relief,  ca.  1920. 

Mixed  media  on  glass,  steel  frame, 

24  x  17.5  x  J  cm. 

Courtesy  Rosa  Esman  Gallery, 

New  York. 


Sergei  Sen'kin 

Suprematism,  ip22. 

Oil  on  glass,  36.5  x  28  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Sofia  Dymshits-Tolstaia 

Glass  Relief,  early  1920s. 
Oil  on  glass,  39  x  44. 2  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Sofia  Dymshits  Tolstaia 

Composition:  Compass,  ca.  1920. 
Sand.  rope,  aluminum  paint,  and 
oil  on  canvas.  69  x  53  cm. 
State  Art  Museum.  Samara. 


Vladimir  Lebedev 

Relief.  1920. 

Wood,  metal,  and  oil  on  board. 


Slate  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 






-*:  ; 


Vladimir  Lebedev 

Still  Lite  with  Saw,  ip20. 

Oil,  collage,  and  wood  on  plywood, 

S5-5  x  80  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Vladimir  Lebedev 

Still  Life  with  Boot,  ip20. 
Oil  on  canvas,  ioj  x  jj  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Vladimir  Lebedev 

Cubism,  Ip22. 

Oil  on  canvas,  108  x  62  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


David  Zagoskin 

Construction,  1921—22. 

Collage  and  oil  on  canvas  mounted 

on  board,  60  x  48.  J  cm. 

State  Radishchev  Art  Museum.  Saratov. 

•  ■    •  '      "  • '     ' 

■D,3^*t  y-<-  *•*« 


Wfadyskiw  Strzeminski 

Tools  and  Products  of  Industry, 


Oil,  cork,  tinplate,  metal,  and  plaster  on 

canvas  mounted  on  board,  44.  5  x  33  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Wladystaw  Strzeminski 

Meter,  at.  rpip. 

Cord,  ceramic  spools,  oil.  and  foil  on 

board.  81  x  58  cm. 

State  Art  Museum.  Samara. 


Valentin  lustitskii 

Painterly  Easel  Construction,  1921. 

Oil  on  canvas,  7f  x  89  cm. 

State  Radishcbev  Art  Museum.  Saratov. 


Valentin  lustitskii 

Painterly  Easel  Construction.  1921. 
Oil  and  wood  on  board.  46 x  49  cm. 
State  Radishcbev  Art  Museum.  Saratov. 


Valentin  lustitskii 

Painterly  Construction  with  Wire. 

early  ip20s. 

Oil  and  wire  on  canvas  mounted  on 

cardboard.  70  x  62  cm. 

State  Radnhchei'  Art  Museum.  Saratov. 



Vasilii  Ermilov 

Vasilii  Ermilov 

Composition,  early  ip20s. 

Composition  No.  3,  1925. 

Knife,  matchbox,  wood,  and  sandpaper, 

Construction  of  wood,  brass,  varnish,  and 

48. 7  x  38.2  cm. 

paint,  82  x  43  x  7  j  cm. 

Collection  L.  Zbadova  Family,  Moscow. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York. 

The  Riklis  Collection  of  McCrory 

Corporation  (fractional  gift),  1983. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Cover  for  Aleksei  Kruchenykh.  Tsotsa, 


Collage  and  pencil  on  paper, 

17.8  x  I}.  8  cm. 

A.  Al.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 

Archive,  Moscow. 



Ol'go  Rozanova  and 

Aleksei  Kruchenykh 

Illustration  for  Universal  War.  1916. 
Paper  and  fabric  collage  on  paper. 
21.6  x  ij.Scni. 
Courtesy  La  Boette  Inc..  New  York. 


Olba  Rozanova  and 
Aleksei  Kruchenykh 

Illustrations  for  Universal  War,  1916. 

Paper  and  fabric  collage  on  paper,  all 

approximately  21.6 x  51.5  cm 

(dimensions  vary). 

Cabinet  des  estampes, 

Muse'e  d'art  et  d'histoire.  Geneva. 


Varvara  Stepanova 

The  Third  Warrior,  illustration  for 
Aleksei  Kruchenykh,  Gly-gly,  1919- 
Collage  and  india  ink  on  paper, 
15. 5 x  nan. 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 
Archive,  Moscow. 


Varvara  Stepanova 

Cover  for  Rtny  kholme,  from  the  series 
Colored  Graphics,  1918. 
Gouache  on  paper.  2j.  5  x  18.2  cm. 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 
Archive.  Moscow. 



«•  ^ 


Varvara  Stepanova 

Sketch  for  Study  the  Old,  but  Create 

the  New,  ca.  ipip. 

Gouache  on  paper,  26.2  x  22.5  cm. 

Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzynska-Bscher, 


Vladimir  Kozlinskii 

Poster,  Long  Live  May  1st!,  1920-21. 
Gouache,  watercolor,  and  whiting  on 
cardboard,  100  x  66.$  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Ivan  Puni 

Sketch  for  decoration  ofLiteinyi  Avenue, 

Petrograd,  ipi8. 

Watercolor,  india  ink,  and  whiting 

on  paper,  62  x  47. 4  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 

Statu  mmufcTAJioAwr.. 


Ivan  Puni 

Still  Life  with  Letters:  "Spectrum," 

"Flight,"  1919. 

Oil  on  canvas.  124  x  127  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Natan  Al'tman 

Design  for  decorations  for  Palace  Square. 

Petrograd.  for  the  first  anniversary  of  the 

October  Revolution:  design  for  the  passage 

between  the  Winter  Palace  and 

Exerzierhaus.  Ipl8. 

Col /age.  watercolor.  and  india  ink  on 

paper.  20. 6  x  ty  2  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Natan  Al'tman 

Design  for  decorations  for  Palace  Square, 

Petrograd.  for  the  first  anniversary  of  the 

October  Revolution.  1918. 

Oil  on  plywood,  $2  x  72.  5  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Natan  Al'tman 

Design  for  decorations  for  Palace  Square. 

Petrograd,  for  the  first  anniversary  of  the 

October  Revolution:  design  for  the  General 

Staff  Arch.  1918. 

India  ink.  colored  paper,  and  collage  on 

cardboard,  22  x  28.5  cm. 

State  Museum  of  the  History  of  the  City 

of  St.  Petersburg. 


Natan  Al'tman 

Design  for  decorations  for  Palace  Square, 
Petrograd,  for  the  first  anniversary  of  the 
October  Revolution,  1918. 
India  ink.  pencil,  collage,  and  colored 
paper  on  cardboard.  _J7  x  32.5  cm. 
State  Museum  of  the  History  of  the  City 
of  St.  Petersburg. 

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Natan  Al'tman 

Russia:  Work,  ip2l. 

Charcoal  on  paper  mounted  on  mahogany. 

p8. 2  x  4p.j  cm. 

State  Tret'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Natan  Al'tman 

Pecrocommune,  1921. 

Oil  and  enamel  on  canvas.  104  x  88. 5  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Workers  of  the  World,  Unite!. 
design  for  propaganda  kiosk,  screen, 
and  loudspeaker  platform,  1922. 
'Watercolor,  ink,  and  pencil  on  paper, 
32. 9  x  24  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Project  for  a  construction  for  the  fifth 

anniversary  of  the  October  Revolution, 


India  ink  and  watercolor  on  paper, 

68  x  49. 2  cm. 

State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 

r™rir%  \ 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Design  for  Screen/Radio-Orator  No.  5, 

Colored  india  inks  and  pencil  on  paper, 

26.6  x  14.7  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Design  for  a  screen,  1922. 
Watercolor  and  india  ink  on  paper, 
24.  6  x  16.  $  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Design  for  a  stand,  1922. 

India  ink  on  paper,  17. 5  x  26.7 cm. 

State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia,  Riga. 

Tfi*fl!U,  2U. 


Aleksandr  Vesnin 

Proposal  for  a  Monument  to  the 
Third  Congress  of  the  Communist 
International,  ip2I. 
Gouache  on  paper,  jj  x  JO.  J  cm. 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art.  New  York. 
Acquired  through  the  Mrs.  Harry  Lynde 
Bradley  and  the  Katherine  S.  Dreier 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Newspaper  Stand,  ipip. 

India  ink,  watercolor,  pencil,  and  varnish 

on  paper,  53.  Sx  35-5  cm- 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 

Archive,  Moscow. 


Aleksei  Morgunov 

Sketch  for  cover  for  Art  International, 


Pencil  and  gouache  on  paper, 

31.7  x  23. 8  cm. 

Central  State  Archive  for  Literature 

and  Art,  Moscow. 


Sofia  Dymshits-Tolstaia 

Study  for  cover  for  Art  International, 


Gouache,  collage,  and  varnish  on  paper, 

16  x  20. 6cm. 

Central  State  Archive  for  Literature 

and  Art,  Moscow. 


Antonina  Sofronova 

Study  for  banner,  Central  Committee 

of  the  Textile  Workers  Union,  1922. 

India  ink,  gouache,  and  collage  on  paper, 

28.  6  x  21. 1  cm. 

Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzynska-Bscher, 



Antonina  Sofronova 

Study  for  banner,  Food  Workers 

Union,  1922. 

Collage  on  paper,  24. 4  x  17  cm. 

Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzynska-Bscher, 



Antonina  Sofronova 

Study  for  banner.  Central  Committee 

of  the  Textile  Workers  Union, 

not  dated. 

Ink.  gouache,  and  collage  on  paper, 

jo  x  20  cm. 

Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzynska-Bscher, 




Vasilii  Ermilov 

Exhibition  project,  Kanatka,  1928. 

Gouache  and  collage, 

j&jx  27.5  cm. 

Museum  Ludwig  (Collection  Luduig. 



Vasilii  Ermilov 

Relief,  1924. 

Wood,  metal,  and  oil  on  sandiloth, 

77.  $x  77.5  cm. 

Galena  Dr.  Istvan  Schlegl,  Zurich. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Cover  for  document  folder  for  the  Congress 
of  Committees  on  Rural  Poverty,  ipi8. 
Lithograph.  42. 2  x  64  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Study  for  cover  for  document  folder  for  the 

Congress  of  Committees  on  Rural  Poverty. 


Gouache,  indta  ink,  and  watercolor  on 

paper,  32. 7  x  41.3  cm. 

Pushkin  House,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Study  for  cover  for  document  folder  for  the 

Congress  of  Committees  on  Rural  Poverty. 


Gouache,  india  ink,  and  watercolor  on 

paper,  28. p  x  2p  cm. 

Pushkin  House,  St.  Petersburg. 





■  i 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Principle  of  Mural  Painting,  ipip. 
Gouache,  watercolor,  and  ink  on  paper, 
34  x  24, 8  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 




Vera  Ermolaeva 

Supremacist  Construction,  sketch  for 
festive  decoration  of  Vitebsk,  ip20. 
Graphite  pencil,  india  ink,  and 
watercolor  on  paper,  13.5  x  20. 7  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Vera  Ermolaeva 

Suprematist  Construction,  sketch  for 
festive  decoration  of  Vitebsk,  1920. 
Watercolor  and  india  ink  on  paper, 
20. 5  x  11. 4  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Vera  Ermolaeva 

Suprematist  Construction,  sketch  for 
festive  decoration  of  Vitebsk,  1920. 
Watercolor  and  india  ink  on  paper, 
iy.  4  x  11. 4  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Speaker's  rostrum.  1 9 20. 
Watercolor  and  mdia  ink  on  paper. 
24. 8 x  ft.  8  cm  (recto  and  verso). 
State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


O^jfTlKf  <Manft\\i  tit  M<  <  U    >%Jv>n  ( 

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Ivan  Kudriashev 

Design  for  the  First  Soviet  Theater, 
Orenburg,  ip20. 

Watercolor,  ink,  and  pencil  on  paper 
mounted  on  board,  21. 2  x  53.4  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Ivan  Kudriashev 

Design  for  the  First  Soviet  Theater, 

Orenburg,  1920. 

Pencil  and  gouache  on  paper  mounted  on 

board,  I}.}  x  }p  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Ivan  Kudriashev 

Automobile,  sketch  for  decoration  for  the 
first  anniversary  of  the  October 
Revolution,  Moscow,  I  pi  8. 
Watercolor  and  graphite  pencil  on  paper 
mounted  on  cardboard,  24.  8  x  54.  6cm. 
State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 

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El  Lissitzky 

Untitled  (Rosa  Luxemburg),  1919—20. 
Gouache,  pencil,  and  ink  on  paper. 
9.7  x  9,7  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


El  Lissitzky 

Study  for  poster  (variant),  Proletarian 

Postal  Workers,  Remember  the  Year 

1905,  1919-20. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  and  graphite  pencil 

on  paper,  18. 2  x  22.9  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky  and 

Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematism,  study  for  curtains  for  the 
meeting  room  of  the  Committee  to  Abolish 
Unemployment,  ipip. 

Gouache,  watercolor,  graphite  pencil,  and 
india  ink  on  paper,  49  x  62. 5  cm. 
State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Artist  Unknown 

Smolensk  Rosta  poster.  Organize  a 
Week  of  the  Red  Gift  Here  and 
Everywhere,  ca.  1920. 
Lithograph,  26.5 x  58.J cm. 
Collection  Merrill  C.  Berman. 


El  Lissitzky 

Poster,  Beat  the  Whites  with  the 
Red  Wedge.  1920. 
Lithograph,  49  x  69  cm. 
Lenin  Library,  Moscow. 


Nikolai  Kolli 

The  Red  Wedge,  decoration  for  the  first 

anniversary  of  the  October  Revolution, 

Moscow,  perspective,  ipi8. 

Pencil,  watercolor,  and  india  ink  on 

paper,  33  x  20. 5  cm. 

State  Shchusev  Aluseum,  Moscow. 

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ll'ia  Chashnik  and 
El  Lissitzky 

Project  for  a  tribune  for  a  square  in 
Smolensk,  1920. 

Gouache,  graphite  pencil,  and  india 
ink  on  paper,  48,2  x  37.8  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Lenin  Tribune,  1924. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  and  photomontage  on 

cardboard,  63. 8x  48 cm. 

State  Tret 'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


ll'ia  Chashnik  and 
El  Lissitzky 

Project  for  a  tribune  for  a  square  in 
Smolensk.  1920. 

Gouache,  graphite  pencil,  and  india 
ink  on  paper,  }}  x  57. 8  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 



El  Lissitzlcy 

Tatlin  at  Work,  illustration  for 

ll'ia  Erenburg,  Six  Tales  with  Easy 

Endings,  1921-22. 

Watercolor,  pencil,  and  photomontage  on 

paper,  29. 2  x  22.8  cm. 

Eric  Estorick  Family  Collection. 



Aleksandr  Tseitlin 

Ration  Card.  1920. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  and  graphite  pencil 

on  paper,  iy.  5  x  18. 8  cm. 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Study  for  cover  for  Maksim  Gor'ku. 
Vladimir  Lenin,  1924. 
Watercolor  and  ink  on  paper, 

2$.  IX  19.3  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Ilia  Chashnik 

Platter,  Lenin.  1924. 


Central  Lenin  Museum.  Moscow. 






j  1  mi  1 11  in  -T\j_, 

19  2.H 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Project  for  Unovis  Tribune,  ign. 
Gouache  on  paper,  35. 8  x  26.  J  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Train  Car  with  Unovis  Symbol  en 
Route  to  the  Exhibition  in  Moscow, 


Watercolor,  india  ink,  and  gouache  on 

paper,  2  J.  $x  4}.  8  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Project:  Decoration  of  a  Vitebsk 
Tramcar.  Ip2l. 

Colored  ink  on  paper,  43  x  62.5  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Project  for  a  Signboard,  1920. 
Gouache  on  paper,  26. 7  x  _jj.  7  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nina  Kogan 

Study  for  set  design  for  a  Suprematist 

ballet,  Vitebsk,  ip20. 

Gouache,  watercolor,  and  india  ink  on 

paper,  22  x  }l.  J  cm. 

St.  Petersburg  State  Museum  of  Theater 

and  Musical  Arts. 


Vera  Ermolaeva 

Set  design  for  Aleksei  Kruchenykh, 
Victory  over  the  Sun,  Vitebsk,  ip20. 
Woodcut  with  watercolor  additions, 
16.7 x  20  cm. 
Private  collection,  Germany. 

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Kazimir  Malevich 

Study  Suprematis  52  System  A4,  191J. 
Charcoal  and  watercolor  on  cardboard, 
69  x  49  cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematist  Drawing,  191/. 
Pencil  and  black  chalk  on  paper, 
$2  x  24.5  cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Vertical  Suprematist  Construction, 


Pencil  on  paper,  46  x  33.  j  cm. 

Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Vertical  Construction  (Suprematist), 


Black  chalk  on  paper,  41  x  29.5  cm. 

Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 



Kazimir  Malevich 

Suprematist  Painting.  1921—27? 
Oil  on  canvas,  84  x  69. 5  cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Future  Planits  for  Leningrad: 
Pilot's  House.  1924. 
Graphite  pencil  on  paper,  30. 5  x  45  cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Modern  Buildings:  Suprematism, 


Pencil  on  paper,  36 x  53.5  cm. 

Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Arkhitekton  "Alpha ",  1925-24. 

Plaster,  51.  $x  80.5  x  54  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Supremacist  Painting,  1921-27? 
Oil  on  canvas,  72.  fx  51cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Sketch  for  Fabric  Ornament  No.  iz. 

Watercolcr  and  tndia  ink  on  paper. 

$6.2x  27  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Fabric  Ornament  No.  15  for 
Batiste  and  Cotton,  ipip. 
Graphite  pencil  on  paper,  $$.  6x  27  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Motifs  for  a  Suprematist  Fabric,  ipip. 
Watercolor  on  paper,  36. 2  x  2J  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Fabric  Ornament  No.  10  for  Cotton, 


Watercolor  on  paper,  35. 8x  27. 1  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


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Nikolai  Suetin 

Textile  design,  1924. 

Watercolor  on  paper.  18.  $x  28.2  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Textile  design.  1921-22. 
Watercolor  and  india  ink  on  paper. 
Ip.6x  28.1cm. 
State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Composition  with  Yellow  Stripe, 
early  1920s. 

Oil  on  plywood,  39.8  x  39.5  cm. 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Black  Square,  early  1920s. 
Oil  on  plywood,  }?■  $  x  39. 5  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Design  for  a  cigarette  case;  three 

variations.  1927—28. 

India  ink  and  silver  paint  on  paper, 

$2.8x  47.6cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Design  for  applied  art,  1926-27 
Colored  ink  on  paper,  47.  9  x  } }.  2  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Design  for  applied  art,  1927-28. 
Colored  ink  on  paper,  47.3  x  $2.9  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 

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ll'ia  Chashnik 

Suprematism.  1922-2}. 
Oil  on  canvas.  S$  x  $j  cm. 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 
Gift  George  Costakis. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Vertical  Axes  in  Motion,  1922-23. 
India  ink  and  watercolor  on  paper, 
2p  x  21.6  cm. 
Leonard  Hutton  Galleries.  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Red  Square  (Unovis),  1921. 
Watercolor  and  india  ink  on  paper, 
21. 4  x  19.4  cm. 

Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Color  Lines  in  Vertical  Motion, 


Watercolor  on  paper,  }$.  5  x  25.5  cm. 
Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Circles  in  a  Suprematist  Cross,  1926. 

Watercolor,  india  ink,  and  pencil  on 

paper,  29. 8  x  20.  p  cm. 

Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

The  Seventh  Dimension:  Supremacist 

Stripe  Relief,  1925. 

Painted  wood,  paper,  cardboard,  and 

glass,  26  x  22.  $x  1.4  cm. 

Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Study  for  advertising  poster,  Soviet 

Screen  No.  4,  1920s. 

Black  and  red  india  ink  on  paper, 

p8x  66  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Architectonic  Relief,  Ip26. 
Plaster  mounted  on  board, 
16.4  x  18.JX  2.6  cm. 
The  Rothschild  Art  Foundation. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Suprematist  Cross  Architecton,  1926. 
Pencil  on  paper,  22  x  ij.  5  cm. 
Leonard  Hutton  Galleries,  New  York. 


ll'ia  Chashnilc 

Cosmos — Red  Circle  on  Black 

Surface,  1925. 

India  ink  and  watercolor  on  paper, 

S7-2X  $z8cm. 

Collection  Thomas  P.  Whitney. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Supremolec  (Suprematist  Planit). 


India  ink  on  paper,  62. 4  x  84. 6  cm. 

Collection  Lew  Nussberg,  United  States. 


Ilia  Chashnik 

Design  for  Supremolet,  192  J. 
Pencil  and  india  ink  on  paper. 
50. 9 x  J  1. pern.  62. 8 x  84.8cm  matted. 
Collection  Lew  Nussberg.  United  States. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Teapot,  192}.  reproduction  early  1970s. 

Porcelain,  id  5  cm  high. 

State  Historical  Museum,  Moscow. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Model  for  a  cup,  192},  reproductions  I(, 

by  lurii  Kraivanov. 

Porcelain,  Dmitrov  Porcelain  Factory 

(reproduction),  6.$  cm  high, 

9  cm  diameter. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Kazimir  Malevich 

Plate  with  Suprematist  design,  1923. 
Porcelain,  24. 8  cm  diameter. 
Gilman  Paper  Company  Collection. 


ll'ia  Chashnik 

Soup  bowl.  Supremansm.  1920s. 
Overglaze  and  stenciling  on  porcelain. 
State  Porcelain  Factory.  Petrograd. 
25  cm  diameter. 
Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Plate.  192}. 

Overglaze  and  stenciling  on  porcelain. 

Lomonosov  Porcelain  Factor).  Leningrad. 

2}  cm  diameter. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Cup  and  saucer.  Suprematism.  1923. 
Overglaze  on  porcelain.  State  Porcelain 
Factory.  Petrograd.  cup  6. 5  cm  high. 
7  cm  diameter,  saucer  14. 5  cm  diameter. 
Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin  (design)  and 

Varvara   Rukavishnikova 


Cup  and  saucer.  192}. 

Overglaze  on  porcelain.  State  Porcelain 

Factory.  Petrograd.  cup  7  J  cm  high. 

saucer  15. 9  cm  diameter. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin  and 

ll'ia  Chashnik 

Inkstand.  1923-25. 

Overglaze  on  porcelain.  State  Porcelain 
Factory.  Petrograd.  6. 5  cm  high. 
1}  x  16  cm  base. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Irina  Rozhdestvenskaia 

Tea  service  with  Supremacist  design, 


Stenciling  on  porcelain,  creamer  8.8  cm 

high,  sugar  haul  8.3  cm  high,  cup  5.6 cm 

high,  saucer  15.1cm  diameter,  cup  5.6  cm 

high,  saucer  15. 1  cm  diameter. 

State  Historical  Museum.  Moscow. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Tea  service  with  Suprematist  design.  1930. 
Overglaze  on  porcelain,  sugar  bowl  10. 2  x 
13.2  x  10.6 cm,  cup  J.J x  11. 3  x  p. 7 cm, 
saucer  15  cm  diameter,  teapot  13.  J  x  10. 3  x 
8.3  cm,  creamer  13.5  x  10. 3  x  8.3  cm,  cup 
5.5  x  II. 3  x  p.  7  cm,  saucer  1$  cm  diameter. 
State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Plate  with  Suprematist  design,  1930. 
Painting  on  porcelain,  22. 4  cm  diameter. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Tea  service  with  black-and-green 
Suprematist  design.  19}0. 
Porcelain,  teapot  1%  4  x  21.5  x  12  cm, 
cup  7.  J  x  p.  5  x  7. 4  cm,  saucer  14, 6  cm 
diameter,  sugar  howl  II.  7  x  15.3  x 
10. 5  cm.  tray  }$  cm  diameter,  creamer 
11. 5  x  13. 8  x  p.  3  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Vase.  1933. 

Porcelain.  Lomonosov  Porcelain  Factory. 

Leningrad,  23.  J  cm  high. 

7  j  x  6.2  cm  base. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Vase.  192J—  early  1930s. 

Porcelain.  Lomonosov  Porcelain  Factory. 

Leningrad.  25. 5  cm  high. 

p.  j  x  p.  $  cm  base. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Nikolai  Suetin 

Vase,  early  IP30S. 

Porcelain.  Lomonosov  Porcelain  Factory, 

Leningrad.  24. 5  cm  high, 

12  x  12  cm  base. 

Kuskovo  State  Porcelain  Museum. 


Lev  ludin 

Composition,  lp2I. 

Graphite  pencil  on  paper,  p.8x  J.  2  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


Lev  ludin 

Composition,  ip20—2i. 
Ink,  black  and  graphite  pencil,  and 
gouache  on  paper,  21. 1  x  12.8  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Lev  ludin 

Composition  (Head),  ip2i. 
Graphite  pencil  on  paper,  18. $  x  II  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


'  1 




-  ■■- 


Lev  ludin 

Cubism,  1920—21. 
Oil  on  canvas,  42  x  28  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Lev  Tsiperson 

Cubism.  Ip20. 

Oil  on  canvas,  yi  x  $4  cm. 

State  Radishchev  Art  Museum,  Saratov. 


Ivan  Gavris 

Violin  (Cubism),  Ip20. 
Oil  on  canvas,  107  x  jo  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Attributed  to  El  Lissitzky 

Composition,  ipip. 

Oil  on  canvas.  Ji  x  $8  cm. 

State  Museum  of  Ukrainian  Art.  Kiev. 


El  Lissitzky 

Sketch  for  Proun  iE:  Town.  1919-20. 

Graphite  and  gouache  on  paper, 

18. 1  x  22.8  cm. 

Erii  Estorick  Family  Collection. 


El  Lissitzky 

Sketch  for  Proun  iA:  Bridge  I. 


Gouache  on  paper.  8. 5  x  is  cm. 

Eric  Estorick  Family  Collection. 



El  Lissitzky 

Town,  ipip-20. 

Oil  and  sand  on  plywood,  47  x  6}.$  cm. 
State  Mustafaev  Azerbaijan  Museum 
of  Art,  Baku. 


El  Lissitzky 

Construction  Floating  in  Space, 


Lithograph  with  graphite  annotations, 

49.8  x  51,1cm. 

Collection  Maslach  Family. 


El  Lissitzky 

Proun  P23,  No.  6.  1919. 
Oil  on  canvas.  52  x  77  cm. 
Eric  Estorick  Family  Collection. 


El  Lissitzky 

System  of  the  Theater,  from  Figures 
from  A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera 
"Victory  over  the  Sun,"  1920—21. 
Watercolor,  gouache,  and  graphite  and 
black  pencil  on  paper.  49. 4  x  57.  9  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Study  for  cover  for  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

Gouache,  india  ink.  and  graphite  pencil 

on  paper,  49. 4  x  $7.9  cm. 

State  Tret'iakw  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

The  New  One.  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  silver  paint,  and 

graphite  pencil  on  paper,  49. 4  x  57.9  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Troublemaker,  from  Figures  from 
A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory 
over  the  Sun,"  1920-21. 
Gouache,  India  ink,  silver  paint,  and 
graphite  and  black  pencil  on  paper, 

49  4  x  37?  cm- 
State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzlcy 

Cowards,  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

Gouache,  india  ink.  and  graphite  and 

black  pencil  on  paper.  49. 4  x  37.  9  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Sportsmen,  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

India  ink.  gouache,  varnish,  and 

graphite  and  black  pencil  on  paper. 

49-  4  x  37?  cm- 
State  Tret'iakor  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Reader,  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  silver  paint, 

varnish,  and  graphite  and  black  pencil 

on  paper,  49. 4  x  37.9  cm. 

State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Old-Timer,  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory  over 

the  Sun,"  1920-21. 

Gouache,  india  ink,  varnish,  and 
graphite  and  black  pencil  on  paper, 
49.4  x  37.9  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Futurist  Strong  Man,  from  Figures 
from  A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera 
"Victory  over  the  Sun,"  1920—21, 
Gouache,  india  ink,  and  graphite  and 
black  pencil  on  paper,  49.4x37.9  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Gravediggers,  from  Figures  from 

A.  Kruchenykh's  Opera  "Victory 

over  the  Sun,"  1920—21. 

India  ink,  gouache,  varnish,  silver  paint, 

and  graphite  pencil  on  paper, 

49- 4  x  57?  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


El  Lissitzky 

Proun  93  (Spiral),  ca.  192}. 
Pencil,  india  ink,  ink,  gouache,  and 
colored  pencil  on  paper,  49.9  x  49.7  cm. 
Staatltche  Galerie  Moritzburg,  Halle. 


El  Lissitzky 

Study  for  Proun  G7,  ca.  Ip22. 
Collage,  watercolor,  crayon,  and  graphite 
on  cardboard,  47.  p  x  jp  cm. 
Stedelijk  Museum,  Amsterdam. 


Lazar'  Khidekel1 

Yellow  Cross,  Ip2j. 
Oil  on  canvas,  $}  x  62  cm. 
Collection  M.  L.  Khidekel', 
St.  Petersburg. 


Sergei  Sen'kin 

Non-Objective  Composition.  Ip20. 
Oil  on  cardboard.  100  x  81  cm. 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts.  Ekaterinburg. 


El  Lissitzky 

Proun  H333,  192}. 

Gouache  and  collage  with  multicolored 
paper  and  airbrush  on  paper, 
44-  5  x  44  cm- 
Private  collection,  Munich. 


Khaia  (Anna)  Kagan 

Composition.  192J-28. 

Oil  on  canvas,  100  x  S5  cm. 

Col lectum  V.  A.  Dudakov  and  M.  K. 

Kashitro,  Moscow. 


Khaia  (Anna)  Kagan 

Decorative  tray,  ca.  1925. 
Overglaze  on  faience,  30  cm  diameter, 
excluding  handles. 

Collection  V.  A.  Dudakov  and  M.  K. 
Kashuro.  Moscow. 

m  Mm 


Khaia  (Anna)  Kagan 

Supremacism  (Composition),  1928. 
Oil  on  canvas,  88  x  66  cm. 
Museum  Ludung  (Collection  Ludwig, 


Vasilii  Kandinskii 

Red  Spot  II,  1921. 

Oil  on  canvas.  131  x  181  cm. 

Stadtische  Galerie  im  Lenbachhaus. 



Vasilii  Kandinskii 

White  Cross.  January-June  1922. 
Oil  on  canvas.  100.$  x  no.  6  cm. 
Peggy  Guggenheim  Collection.  Venice. 



Vasilii  Kandinskii 

Composition:  Gray  Oval,  1917. 
Oil  on  canvas.  105  x  133.5  cm- 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts.  Ekaterinburg. 


Vasilii  Kandinskii 

Composition  No.  224  (On  White  I). 


Oil  on  canvas,  95  x  138  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Vdsilii  Kandinskii 

White  Oval,  1919. 

Oil  on  canvas,  So  x  9}  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Vasilii  Kandinskii 

Blue  Segment.  ip2i. 
Oil  on  canvas,  120. 6x140.1  cm. 
Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum. 
New  York. 


Vasilii  Kandinskii 

White  Center,  ip2i. 
Oil  on  canvas,  118.  yxi}6.$cm. 
Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum, 
New  York.  Hilla  Rebay  Collection. 


Vasilii  Kandinskii 

Circles  on  Black.  ip2i. 
Oil  on  canvas,  i}6.$x  120  cm. 
Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum, 
Neu'  York. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Composition  No.  64/84  (Abstraction 

of  Color:  Elimination  of  the  Density 

ofColorj,  Ipi8. 

Oil  on  canvas,  74. 5  x  74.5  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Black  on  Black,  1918. 

Oil  on  canvas,  84. 5  x  6j  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Points:  Composition  No.  119.  ip20. 
Oil  on  canvas,  47  x  }J.  5  cm. 
Galerie  Gmurzynska.  Cologne. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Composition  No.  66/86  (Density  and 

Weight),  ipip. 

Oil  on  canvas,  122.}  x  73  cm. 

State  Tret'iakof  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Non-Objective  Painting:  Black  on 

Black.  1918. 

Oil  on  canvas,  81. 9  x  79.4  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art.  New  York. 

Gift  of  the  artist,  through  Jay  Leyda. 



Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Non-Objective  Painting  (Lines), 


Oil  on  canvas.  84.$  x  71. 1  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art.  Neu'  York. 

Gift  of  the  artist,  through  Jay  Leyda, 



Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Non-Objective  Composition,  1918. 

Oil  on  board.  55  x  21  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Dissipation  of  a  Plane.  1921. 
Oil  on  canvas.  79  x  70.  J  cm. 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V  F.  Stepanova 
Archive,  Moscow. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Composition,  Ip20. 

Colored  penal  on  paper,  21  x  /J.  g  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Construction,  ip20. 

Ink  on  paper,  25. 4  x  lp.$  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Composition,  Ip20. 

Pencil  and  orange  crayon  on  paper, 

26.8 x  23. 4  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Construction,  Ip20. 

Brown  ink  on  paper,  2J  x  ip.icm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


\  w 





Karl  loganson 

Construction.  ip2i. 

Colored  penal  and  penal  on  paper, 

}i.8  x  24.3  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Karl  loganson 

Composition.  ip2i. 

Colored  pencil,  ink.  and  penal  on  paper. 

24. 1  x  }2.$  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


fa.™     X. 




Boris  Korolev 

Construction,  ip2i. 

Penal  on  paper,  jj.  4  x  25.9  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Boris  Korolev 

Composition,  1921. 

Pencil  and  gouache  on  paper, 

16. 1  x  10.  6  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Aleksei  Babichev 

Composition,  ip2i. 

Pencil  on  paper,  49. 5  x  34. 5  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 


Aleksei  Babichev 

Construction,  ip2i. 

Ink,  gouache,  and  pencil  on  paper, 

$2. 1  x  28. 2  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis,  Germany. 



Nadezhda  Udal'tsova 

Red  Nude,  ipip. 

Oil  on  canvas.  70  x  70  cm. 

State  Architecture  and  Art  Museum. 



Aleksandr  Drevin 

Suprematism.  1921. 
Oil  on  canvas,  ioj.  2  x  86. 8  cm. 
Yale  University  Art  Gallery. 
Gift  Societe  Anonyme. 


Aleksandr  Drevin 

Painterly  Composition.  1921. 
Oil  on  canvas,  124  x  p$  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Liubov'  Popova 

First  Half  of  the  Spectrum,  from  her 
response  to  Vasiln  Kandinskii's  Inkhuk 
Questionnaire  on  color,  ip20. 
Gouache  on  paper,  21  x  2J  cm. 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


Liubov1  Popova 

First  Half  of  the  Spectrum,  from  her 
response  to  Vasilii  Kandinskii's  Inkhuk 
Questionnaire  on  color.  Ip20. 
Gouache  on  paper,  ip.2  x  2 /.6  cm. 
State  Tret'iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


Liubov'  Popova 

First  Half  of  the  Spectrum,  from  her 
response  to  Vasilii  Kandinskii's  Inkhuk 
Questionnaire  on  color,  ip2i. 
Gouache  on  paper,  lj.$x  41.}  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Liubov'  Popova 

First  Half  of  the  Spectrum,  from  her 
response  to  Vasilii  Kandinskii's  Inkhuk 
Questionnaire  on  color,  ip20. 
Gouache  on  paper,  ij.  7  x  42.2  cm. 
State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 



Liubov'  Popova 

Untitled,  1920. 

Gouache  and  paper  collage  on  paper, 

}0  x  25.2  cm. 

Leonard  Hut  ton  Galleries.  New  York. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Composition,  1920. 

Gouache  and  paper  collage  on  paper. 
44. 4  x  30  cm. 
Private  collection. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Composition.  1921. 

Gouache  on  paper,  34.3  x  27.  J  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Aleksandr  Vesnin 

Cover  for  exhibition  catalogue, 

5  x  5  =  25.  1921. 

Pencil,  oil,  and  whiting  on  cardboard, 

22  x  12. 6  cm. 

State  Shchusei'  Museum,  Moscow. 


Liubov1  Popov  a 

Space-Force  Construction.  ip2i. 
Oil  on  plywood,  69  x  52  cm. 
Primor'e  Regional  Picture  Gallery, 


Liubov'  Popova 

Constructivist  Composition.  ip2i. 
Oil  on  board,  pj  x  61.  $  cm. 
Private  collection,  England. 


Aleksandr  Vesnin 

Abstract  Composition.  l<?2l. 
Oil  on  cardboard,  pj.  y  x  63  cm. 
State  Shchttsev  Museum.  Moscow. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Space-Force  Construction.  1920-21. 
Oil  uith  marble  dust  on  board, 
112.6  x  112.7  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Varvara  Sfepanova 

Construction,  ca.  1921. 
Collage  on  paper.  35.9  x  22.9  cm. 
Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Liubov'  Popova 

Study  for  exhibition  catalogue. 

5  x  5  =  25,  1921. 

Colored  pencil  and  collage  on  paper, 

23. 1  x  15.6  cm. 

State  Shchusev  Museum,  Moscow. 


Varvara  Stepanova 

Study  for  poster  far  the  second  part  of  the 

5  x  5  =  25  exhibition,  1921. 

Collage  and  gouache  on  pap'": 

28  x  2$  cm. 

Collection  Krystyna  Gmurzyns'^'J-Bscher. 



Varvara  Stepanova 

Figure,  1921. 

Oil  on  plywood,  12$  x  Jl.  5  cm. 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 

Archive,  Moscow. 


Varvara  Stepanova 

Five  Figures  on  a  White  Background, 


Oil  on  canvas,  79.  5  x  97. 5  cm. 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 

Archive.  Moscow. 



Aleksandra  Ekster 

Composition,  ca.  1921. 
Gouache  on  paper,  42  x  39  cm. 
Albright-Knox  Art  Gallery,  Buffalo, 
New  York.  Edmund  Hayes  and 
Charles  W.  Goodyear  Funds,  1974. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Construction,  1922-2}. 

Oil  on  canvas,  89. 8x  89.2  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York. 

The  Riklts  Collection  of  McCrory 

Corporation  (fractional  gift),  198}. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Color  Construction,  1922. 
Oil  on  canvas,  62  x  66  cm. 
Dagestan  Museum  of  the  Arts, 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Construction  of  Color  Planes,  1921. 

Oil  on  canvas,  89  x  89  cm. 

State  Radishchev  Art  Museum,  Saratov. 


Aleksandra  Ekster 

Construction  of  Lines,  192}. 

Gouache  and  watercolor  on  paper, 

56  x  $6  cm. 

Private  collection. 

Courtesy  Rachel  Adler  Gallery. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Color  Construction,  Ip20. 

Oil  on  canvas.  8j.  6  x  61.5  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Color  Construction  No.  9,  1920-21. 
Oil  on  board,  60.  $  x  57.  J  cm. 
Stale  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Color  Construction  No.  7.  1921. 
Oil  on  canvas,  jl  x  62  cm. 
State  Lunacharskii  Museum  of 
Fine  Arts,  Krasnodar. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Spatial  Construction.  1921. 
reconstruction  1992  by  Michael  Duchting. 
Steel  and  wood.  61  x  40  x  ij  cm. 
Collection  Dieter  Zaha,  Kassel. 

281.2  . 

Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Spatial  Construction,  1921, 
reconstruction  1992  by  Michael  Duchting. 
Steel  and  wood,  84  x  44  x  59  cm. 
Collection  Dieter  Zaha.  Kassel. 


Konstantin  Medunetskii 

Spatial  Construction,  ipip-20. 
Tin,  brass,  steel,  and  painted  iron  on 
painted  metal  base,  46 cm  high. 
Yale  University  Art  Gallery. 
Gift  Societe  Anonyme. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Color  Construction  No.  12, 


Mixed  media  on  canvas,  52  x  45  cm. 

State  Tret  'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Color  Construction  No.  10. 

Mixed  media  on  canvas.  52  x  4$  cm. 
State  Tret  iakov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Color  Construction  No.  13,  ipip-20. 
Mixed  media  on  canvas,  45  x  $2  cm. 
State  Tret 'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Vladimir  Sternberg 

Color  Construction  No.  4.  Ip20. 

Oil  on  canvas,  J$  x  38.  J  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Georgii  Stenberg 

Non-Objeccive  Composition,  1920. 
Watercolor,  india  ink,  and  whiting  on 
paper,  30. 4  x  18.5  cm. 
State  Russian  Museum,  St.  Petersburg. 


Georgii  Stenberg 

Color  Construction,  ipip. 

Oil  and  metallic  paint  on  cardboard, 

27  x  1  J  cm. 

Albrtght-Knox  Art  Gallery,  Buffalo, 

New  York.  George  B.  and  Jenny  R. 

Mathews  Fund,  ip j6. 


Georgii  Stenberg 

Color  Construction  of  Materials 

No.  7,  1920. 

Metal,  sand,  bluing,  glass,  and  oil  on 

board.  46 x  26 cm. 

State  Tret  'takov  Gallery,  Moscow. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Spatial  Construction  No.  5.  1918, 


Painted  aluminum,  47. $  x  37.  $  x  21  cm. 

Wilhelm  Hack  Museum.  Ludwigshafen. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Spatial  Construction  KPS  29,  ip2i, 
reconstruction  1977. 

Brass  tubes,  steel  rods,  hardwood  painted 
with  black  lacquer,  and  steel  wires, 
27$  x  60  x  52  cm,  including  base. 
Collection  Galerie  Hoffmann,  Friedberg, 
Dokumentation  konstruktive  Kunst. 


Vladimir  Stenberg 

Spatial  Construction  KPS  42  N  IV. 
ip2i,  reconstruction  197). 
Aluminum,  264  x  jo  x  i}0  cm. 
Galerie  Gmurzynska,  Cologne. 


Georgii  Stenberg 

Spatial  Construction  KPS  si  N  XI. 
1021,  reconstruction  197}. 
Browned  and  chromium-plated  iron, 
glass,  and  wood.  220  x  100  x  61  cm. 
Galerie  Gmurzynska,  Cologne. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Oval  Hanging  Spatial  Construction 
No.  12,  1921,  reconstruction  by 
Aleksandr  Lavrent'ev,  1970. 
Varnished  plywood,  $4  x  80  x  50  cm. 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 
Archive,  Moscow. 


Katarzyna  Kobro 

Suprematist  Construction 
(Suspended),  1921. 
Steel,  4j  x  28  cm. 
Private  collection. 


Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Hanging  Spatial  Construction, 
reconstruction  1982. 
Aluminum,  59  x  58  x  $9  cm. 
Galerie  Gmurzynska,  Cologne. 



Katarzyna  Kobro 

Abstract  Sculpture  I,  1924. 
Glass,  metal,  and  wood, 
72  x  17.5  x  1$.  $  cm. 
Muzeum  Sztuki.  Lodz. 


Antoine  Pevsner 

Composition,  1917—18. 
Oil  on  canvas,  80  x  $2  cm. 
Muse'e  national  a" art  moderne. 
Centre  Georges  Pompidou,  Paris. 
Gift  Mrs.  Pevsner.  1964. 


Antoine  Pevsner 

Still  Life:  Absinthe.  1922-23. 

Oil  on  canvas,  J$.  5  x  49  cm. 

State  Russian  Museum.  St.  Petersburg. 


Naum  Gabo 

Constructed  Head  No.  2,  1916. 
Steel,  4$  x  40. 5  x  40.5  cm. 

Collection  Nina  Williams,  England. 


Naum  Gabo 

Maquette  for  Constructed  Torso, 

191/-18,  reassembled  1985. 

Cardboard,  IIJ  cm  high. 

Berlinische  Galerie,  Museum  fur  moderne 

Kunst,  Photographie  und  Architektur, 



Antoine  Pevsner 

Gray  Tone,  ip20. 

Oil  on  canvas,  62  x  49  cm. 

Galme  Alice  Pauli,  Lausanne. 


Naum  Gabo 

Design  for  a  Construction.  igi8. 
Pencil  on  paper,  40.5  x  2J.$  cm. 
Collection  Nina  Williams.  England. 


Naum  Gabo 

Study  tor  an  Outdoor  Construction. 


Penal  on  paper,  2}  x  2  J.  5  cm. 

Galerie  de  France,  Paris. 


Naum  Gabo 

Study  tor  a  Tower.  1917, 
Pencil  on  paper,  40. 3  x  28.5  cm. 
Berlinische  Galerie,  Museum  fur  nwderne 
Kunst,  Photographie  und  A  rchitektur, 


Naum  Gabo 

Study  for  a  Square  in  Moscow,  ipip. 
Pencil  on  paper,  42  x  Jj  cm. 
Collection  Thomas  P.  Whitney. 


Naum  Gabo 

Column,  ca.  Ip2^,  reconstruction  ipj/  by 

the  artist. 

Perspex,  wood,  metal,  and  glass, 

10$.  5  x  75. 6  x  j 5. 6  cm. 

Solomon  R.  Guggenheim  Museum, 

New  York. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Study  for  poster.  Electrification  of  the 

Entire  Country.  1920. 

Ink.  gouache,  and  collage  on  paper. 

46. 3  x  2j.$cm. 

Collection  Merrill  C.  Berman. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Dynamic  City.  ipip. 

Gouache,  foil,  photomontage,  collage,  and 
pencil  on  paper,  }j.  $x  25.8  cm. 
State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia.  Riga. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Dynamic  City.  iplp. 

Oil  with  sand  and  concrete  on  board. 

87  x  64.$  cm. 

Collection  George  Costakis.  Germany. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Construction,  1921. 
India  ink,  gouache,  pencil,  and  sealing 
wax  on  paper.  66.  6  x  41. 4  cm. 
State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia,  Riga. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Construction,  ip2i. 

Penal  and  ink  on  paper.  52.  ix  43.5  cm. 

State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia,  Riga. 


Gustav  Klutsis 

Construction,  ip2l. 

Gouache,  ink,  silverbronze,  and  sealing 
wax  on  paper,  81. 7  x  66.$  cm. 
State  Art  Museum  of  Latvia,  Riga. 


Elena  Afanas'eva 

Color  and  Space  ,  1924-25. 
Oil  on  canvas,  29. 2x3?  cm. 
Barry  Friedman  Ltd. .  New  York. 


Elena  Afanas'eva 

Color  Composition,  1924-25 
Oil  on  canvas,  }$  x  33.  3  cm. 
Barry  Friedman  Ltd. ,  New  York. 

316  , 

Gustav  Klutsis 

Chromatic  Table,  from  Color 
i   Discipline  Textbook  for  Vkhutemas 
|   Students,  IP24-30. 

Collage  and  India  ink  on  paper, 

$0.8  x  20.8  cm. 
I   State  Tret  'takov  Gallery.  Moscow. 


Mikhail  Matiushin 

Table  from  Guide  to  Color:  Rules  ot 

the  Fluctuations  of  Color 

Combinations.  I9}2. 

Gouache  on  cardboard.  12. 5  x  143  cm. 

Collection  A.  V.  Povelikhina. 

St.  Petersburg. 


Mikhail  Matiushin 

Table  from  Guide  to  Color:  Rules  of 

the  Fluctuations  of  Color 

Combinations,  1932. 

Gouache  on  cardboard.  12. 5  x  143. 5  cm. 

Collection  A.  V.  Povelikhina. 

St.  Petersburg. 

A  Brief  History  of 

Aleksandra  Shatskikh 

Studies  of  early  Soviet  art  invariably  devote  a  great  deal  of 
attention  to  the  Society  of  Young  Artists,  or  Obmokhu.  The 
activity  of  its  members  proved  an  enabling  factor  in  the 
emergence  of  Constructivism  in  the  five  years  following  the 
October  Revolution,  and  the  careers  of  many  prominent  artists 
traced  their  beginnings  to  Obmokhu.  Yet,  as  scholars  have 
noted,  the  history  of  Obmokhu  has  not  been  entirely  clear; 
numerous  questions  have  remained  unanswered. 

While  researching  the  history  of  the  First  Free  State  Art 
Workshops,  I  have  brought  to  light  a  number  of  circumstances 
and  factual  details  which  make  it  possible  to  strip  away 
persistent  inaccuracies  in  and  distortions  of  the  history  of 
Obmokhu  and  to  establish  a  more  precise  chronology  and 
authentic  account  of  the  group's  activity. 

Both  Soviet  and  Western  scholars  have  relied  above  all  on 
V.  M.  Lobanov's  Kbt/dozhestvennye  gruppirovki  za  poslednie  25  let 
(Artists'  Groups  over  the  Last  Twenty-Five  Years),  published  by 
AKhR  (the  Association  of  Artists  of  the  Revolution)  in  1930, 
for  their  information  on  Obmokhu.  For  Soviet  art  historians, 
Lobanov's  slender  volume  was  for  many  decades  nearly  the  only 
comprehensive  work  treating  the  multiple  facets  of  artistic  life 
in  the  immediate  postrevolutionary  years.  Because  Lobanov  was 
a  participant  in  and  witness  to  the  events  he  described, 
subsequent  generations  attributed  to  his  book  all  the  merits  of 
a  primary  source;  Lobanov's  information,  because  it  was 
firsthand,  seemed  authoritative  and  trustworthy.  As  a  result,  no 
critical  judgment  was  brought  to  bear  on  the  book:  Lobanov's 
facts  were  neither  doubted  nor  checked,  and  his  mistakes  and 
inaccuracies  were  reproduced  in  the  work  of  one  writer  after 
another — as  they  are  even  today.  Yet  one  needn't  look  far  to 
determine  that  the  book  does,  indeed,  contain  errors  of  fact. 
Thus,  for  example,  Lobanov  insists — and  more  than  once — 
that  the  Twenty-First  State  Exhibition,  which  opened  in  March 
1921,  was  the  last  exhibition  organized  by  I20  Narkompros  (the 
Department  of  Fine  Arts  of  the  People's  Commissariat  of 
Enlightenment).'  The  truth,  however,  is  that  both  the  Twenty- 
Second  State  Exhibition  (on  which  more  below)  and  the 
Twenty-Third  (the  hardly  obscure  exhibition  of  Marc  Chagall's 
murals  for  the  State  Jewish  Kamernyi  Theater  in  Moscow)  were 
also  organized  by  Izo  Narkompros.2 

Lobanov  was  the  official  historian  of  and  apologist  for 
AKhR,  and  his  book  is  a  product  of  its  times:  it  is 
undisguisedly  tendentious,  a  polemic  bent  on  repudiation  of 
Izo  Narkompros.  It  was  Lobanov's  aim  to  demonstrate,  on  the 
one  hand,  the  bankruptcy  of  Izo  Narkompros 's  pluralistic 
policy  and,  on  the  other,  the  weakness  and  unviability  of 
various  "Formalist"  tendencies  and  movements  in 
postrevolutionary  art.  Singling  out  Obmokhu — whose  chief 
significance  lay,  according  to  Lobanov,  "not  in  the  formulation 
or  realization  of  this  or  that  artistic  slogan  so  much  as  in  its 
being  a  pioneer  in  the  creation  of  new  artists'  groupings  based, 
unlike  the  eclectic  Narkompros  exhibitions,  on  a  selection  of 
artists  united  by  a  shared  principle"' — and  juxtaposing  it  to 
other  artists'  associations  served  Lobanov's  strategy.  AKhR 
aspired  to  power,  and  its  ideologues  saw  a  concentrated  "strike 
force"  of  artists  as  the  chief  means  of  attaining  it.  Lobanov 
chose  Obmokhu,  so  it  appears,  in  order  to  demonstrate  the 
efficacy  of  such  a  ploy.  The  "postscripts,"  inaccuracies,  and 
deliberate  suppression  of  certain  facts  of  Obmokhu's  history  in 
Lobanov's  book  were  dictated  by  this  biased  purpose. 

In  the  summer  of  1919,  at  the  moment  of  highest  tension  in 
the  Civil  War,  a  general  mobilization  into  the  Red  Army  was 
announced,  and  many  students  of  the  former  Stroganov  School 
in  Moscow,  who  had  just  finished  their  first  year  at  the  new 
First  Free  State  Art  Workshops,  were  sent  to  the  front.  One  of 
those  called  up  was  Georgii  Shchetinin,  who  had  been  among 
the  most  active  reformers  of  artistic  education  "from  below";  he 


had  done  immense  organizational  work  at  the  school  over  a 
number  of  years.4  At  his  departure,  Shchetinin  made  a  close 
friend  pledge  both  to  carry  on  his  work  at  the  First  Free  State 
Art  Workshops  and  to  write  him  regularly  and  in  detail  about 
everything  that  happened  there.  Shchetinin's  friend  was 
Georgii  Echeistov,  a  student  of  Vladimir  Favorskii's  and  later 
a  well-known  graphic  artist,  and  he  kept  his  promise  to 
Shchetinin.  Both  young  men  were  acutely  aware  that  history 
was  being  made  around  them  and  through  them,  and  they 
carefully  preserved  their  notes,  letters,  and  other  papers.  The 
1919-21  correspondence  between  Echeistov  and  Shchetinin  is 
invaluable,  for  it  records  events  as  they  occurred  and  is  marred 
by  none  of  the  distortions  that  afflict  later  reminiscences  and 

In  a  brief  letter  of  September  15,  1919,  Echeistov  told 
Shchetinin,  among  other  things:  "A  group  'without  a 
supervisor'  has  formed  out  of  Grigor'ev's  workshop,  and  Fm  in 
it.  I'll  work  under  G.  Iakulov  in  a  special  workshop  and  learn 
about  theater,  and  one  can  earn  money  with  him."  These  lines 
require  some  elucidation:  a  reform  introduced  in  the  first 
months  of  the  Soviet  state  had  led  to  the  creation  of  the 
experimental  Svomas  (Free  Workshops),  where  a  master-and- 
apprentice  system,  modeled  on  the  Utopian  ideal  of  the 
Renaissance  studio,  was  the  basis  of  art  education.  The  new 
professional  schools  in  both  Moscow  and  Petrograd  were 
composed  of  individual  workshops,  in  which  classes  were 
conducted  by  artists  elected  supervisors  by  the  students.  At  the 
First  Free  State  Art  Workshops,  created  from  the  former 
Srroganov  School,  there  were  not  only  individual  but  special 
workshops,  in  which  students  of  different  classes  could  study; 
special  workshops  in  stage  and  costume  design  were  run  by 

fig.  1 

The  "workshop  without  a  supervisor, "  First  State  Free  Art  Workshops, 
Moscow,  ip20.  From  left,  seated:  Zharova,  Kozlova,  and  Svetlov; 
standing:  Prusakov,  unidentified,  Mens  hut  in,  Zhukov,  Aleksandrov, 
I.  Mistriuk,  and  Naumov. 


fig.  2 

Lentulov's  workshop.  First  State  Free  Art  Workshops,  Moscow,  1920. 
Standing,  third  from  right,  Komardenkov;  center,  Lentulov. 


Aristarkh  Lentulov,  Fedor  Fedorovskii,  and  Georgii  Iakulov. 
Iakulov  was  highly  regarded  by  the  students,  participated  in 
many  of  their  undertakings,  and  helped  them  to  endure  the 
hardships  of  those  years.  He  put  his  workshop  on  an 
"economic"  footing  from  its  very  first  months:  he  paid  wages 
for  work,  obtained  commissions  for  his  students,  and  so  on.6 
A  portion  of  the  students  at  the  First  Free  State  Art 
Workshops,  in  particular  those  who  at  the  time  of  the 
Revolution  had  been  in  the  Stroganov  School's  senior  classes, 
were  entitled  to  study  exclusively  in  the  special  workshops.7 

According  to  a  report  written  by  Shchetinin,  there  were 
eighteen  workshops  in  all  at  the  First  Free  State  Art 
Workshops  (twelve  in  painting,  three  in  sculpture,  and  three  in 
architecture).8  One  of  the  painting  workshops  was  headed  by 
Boris  Grigor'ev,  who  lived  in  Petrograd  and  made  infrequent 
visits  to  Moscow  (at  the  end  of  1919,  he  and  his  family  would 
leave  Russia  for  good).  At  the  beginning  of  the  1919-20 
academic  year,  the  students  in  Grigor'ev 's  workshop  chose,  for 
a  number  of  reasons,  to  reject  their  teacher  elected  the  year 
before  and  to  form  a  group  "without  a  supervisor,"  as  was 
permitted  under  the  provisional  bylaws  of  the  Free  Workshops. 
In  a  draft  autobiography,  Echeistov  later  indicated:  "At  about 
this  time  my  artistic  credo  begin  to  take  shape  under  the 
influence  of  the  Futurists  (artists,  painters,  and  poets).  I  didn't 
care  for  any  of  the  Russian  artists,  I  liked  the  French  in 
Shchukin's  gallery.  So  I  joined  up  with  Prusakov  and  Naumov, 
who  had  organized  a  workshop  without  a  supervisor." 

Aleksandr  Naumov,  a  brilliantly  gifted  artist  who  died  at 
an  early  age,  and  Nikolai  Prusakov,  who  would  become  well 
known  as  a  poster  artist  and  designer,  were  among  the  school's 
most  talented  students,  and  had  already  received  their  basic 
professional  training  at  the  old  Stroganov  School.  In  1919—20, 
Echeistov,  Naumov,  and  Prusakov  were  joined  in  the 
"workshop  without  a  supervisor"  by  Grigorii  Aleksandrov, 
S.  I.  Egorov,  Nikolai  Glushkov,  Klavdiia  Kozlova,  Nikolai 
Menshutin,  Sergei  Svetlov,  Lidiia  Zharova  (who  married 
Naumov  in  1920),  and  Petr  Zhukov  (fig.  no.  1).  According  to 
the  testimony  of  Zharova-Naumova,  Sergei  Kostin  and  Mikhail 
Sapegin,  among  others,  were  frequent  visitors  to  the  workshop, 
where  life  drawing  was  well  taught.9  Like  Echeistov,  certain  of 
the  students  in  the  "workshop  without  a  supervisor" — 
Aleksandrov,  Menshutin,  Sapegin,  Svetlov,  and  Zhukov— 
continued  to  study  in  Iakulov 's  stage-design  workshop. 

The  "workshop  without  a  supervisor"  remained  in  existence 
until  the  spring  of  1920.  A  number  of  the  students,  particularly 
those  who  were  already  clear  about  where  their  artistic  futures 
lay  and  those  who  were  employed  filling  commissions, 
considered  their  educations  at  an  end  and  were  given 
certificates  attesting  to  their  having  completed  a  course  of 
higher  education.  In  the  Free  Workshops,  and  initially  at 
Vkhutemas  (the  Higher  Artistic-Technical  Workshops),  there 
were  no  strict  prerequisites  for  graduation — a  student 
presented  his  work  to  the  Council  of  Professors,  and  if  the 
Council  judged  the  work  to  be  mature,  the  young  artist  was 
given  a  certificate  of  completion.  (It  is  for  this  reason  that  the 
graduation  dates  of  the  Free  Workshops'  and  Vkhutemas 's  first 
graduates  vary  so  widely.'0) 

Over  three  days  at  the  end  of  September  1919,  Echeistov 
wrote  a  long  letter  (dated  September  27-29)  to  Shchetinin, 
giving  him  the  latest  news: 


(POKAl/CTBfHM  11) 

1?  I?0f  1(1  jpE(PE  HJ.L'  2  "trt^  it  fa.  &  ?> 





V^CTfvior:  A.Hiynog.Ctm/lO'i,  H. JECRHioerK mm,C.Koiimm. 

&.  fTrnErrr.rcuHrfrr.K.MavHtiiKMCt.i.Ko/iAh 

JVWKOS,  A.  nil'lM,i08,A.l*AWIllKMK,^»'frHHrB, 

Cr  h  lie  it  Amor  cjioU  uaxui   ri.b.lXYHAWf  EMM. 

liicnnjiT   tt:  /VEKaMUHEB, 





BX0,4  B'jUHI-OTKfllfftfl  IWIrW/iA 

,AWM   (Uc(U.hum. 

%ucr/iw  OHHtr/1  co£*w 'fie fSfir&fm 

fig.  3 

Poster  for  Obmokhu  exhibition,  Moscow,  May  2-16,  1920. 
Collection  N.  D.  Lobanov-Rostovsky. 

What  can  I  write  "about  art  in  Moscow' ' ?  It's  tight.  I'm  counting 
on  our  workshops.  As  soon  as  I'm  free  {of  his  duties  as  secretary  of  the 
students'  executive  committee),  what  a  journal  I'll  start  (unless  I  get 
lazy).  Still,  my  being  secretary  pays  off — I've  been  in  the  thick  of 
things.  A  society  of  young  artists,  Obmolkhud,  is  being  organized.  I 
wrote  the  bylaws.  (I  emended  them  today,  they  need  reworking  and 


polishing.)  Sapegin,  Naumov,  Prusakov.  Komardenkov,  Kostin,  and 
I — and,  I  can't  remember,  Stepanov  and  Denisovskii.  too,  I  think — 
are  the  directors.  We're  organizing  it  to  combat  the  artists  in  authority 
who  exploit  young  talents  (the  Kostin-Grigor'ev  incident  and  others)." 

Echeistov's  letter  unambiguously  attests  that  Obmolkhud, 
as  Obmokhu  was  first  called,  began  forming  only  in  the 
autumn  of  1919;  the  group  could  not,  therefore,  have  held  an 
exhibition  in  the  spring  of  1919,  as  Lobanov  asserts.  It  should 
be  noted  that  the  young  artists  did  not  treat  the  organization 
of  their  society  lightly  but  erected  it  on  a  carefully  laid 
foundation;  the  group  had  bylaws,'2  elected  directors  (Nikolai 
Denisovskii,  endowed  with  exceptional  organizational  skills, 
later  became  its  president),  and  a  seal. 

All  of  the  artists  listed  by  Echeistov — with  the  exception  of 
Sapegin,  Aleksei  Stepanov,  and  Echeistov  himself — have  been 
recognized  by  scholars  as  members  of  Obmokhu.  The 
participation  of  both  Sapegin — a  student  of  Iakulov's  and  a 
future  stage  designer — and  Stepanov — also  a  student  of 
Iakulov's,  who  later  worked  at  the  State  Jewish  Kamernyi 
Theater — in  the  early  stages  of  the  organization  of  Obmokhu 
appears  quite  probable.  As  for  Echeistov,  a  fire  in  the 
"workshop  without  a  supervisor"  in  late  1919— early  1920  led 
him  into  a  deep  depression,  and  he  stopped  working.  "The  fire 
in  our  workshop,"  Echeistov  wrote  in  his  autobiography, 
"destroyed  an  enormous  number  of  drawings  completed  over 
this  time.  It  was  a  tremendous  loss;  I  did  almost  nothing  for 
the  whole  next  year."" 

With  what  exhibition  of  1919  has  the  first  Obmokhu 
exhibition  been  confused?  At  the  end  of  the  1918— 19  academic 
year  at  the  First  Free  State  Art  Workshops,  the  new  art  school's 
first  full  year  of  operation,  a  showcase  exhibition  was  held  at 
the  school's  quarters  at  11  Rozhdestvenka.  At  the  exhibition,  on 
view  in  June  1919,  the  works  of  students  and  teachers  were 
displayed  together,  by  workshop  (the  very  organizing 
principle,  that  is,  that  Lobanov  claims  was  Obmokhu's 
innovation).  A  large  informative  notice  in  the  newspaper 
Iskusstvo  (Art)  is  unambiguous  on  this  point: 


The  first  exhibition  of  more  than  one  thousand  works  from 
the  state  industrial  workshops  closed  on  July  1st.  The  exhibition 
was  divided  up  according  to  individual  and  decorative-and-production 
workshops.  The  workshops  of  the  artists  F.  Fedorovskii,  G.  lakulov, 
A.  Lentulov,  P.  Konchalovskii,  A.  Morgunov.  V.  Tatlin, 
A.  Grishchenko,  B.  Grigor'ev,  Ul'ianov,  the  sculptor  Vatagin,  and 
others  were  represented. '" 

The  author  of  the  notice — in  all  likelihood  Shchetinin, 
who  published  an  extensive  report  on  the  First  Free  State  Art 
Workshops'  first  year  in  the  next  issue  of  Art — emphasizes 
that  "the  exhibition  itself  was  clearly  organized  as  a  decorative 
and  production  one.  Still,  the  principle  of  revolutionizing 
everyday  life  is  manifestly  shared  by  the  workshops  of  the 
artists  G.  B.  lakulov  (very  successful  signboards  for  factories 
and  public  buildings),  F.  F.  Fedorovskii  (the  maquettes  for 
folk-dance  performances  were  of  interest),  and,  in  part, 
A.  V.  Lentulov  (stage-design  maquettes)  and  by  the  students 
working  out  new  types  of  posters,  books,  street  and  train 
decorations,  and  so  forth."  Lobanov 's  list  of  the  kinds  of  work 
exhibited  in  what  he  calls  the  first  Obmokhu  exhibition,  in  the 
spring  of  1919,  matches  the  list  in  the  notice. 

The  displaying  of  works  by  students  and  teachers  as  a  single 
work  of  the  entire  workshop  at  the  First  State  Free  Art 
Workshops  show,  mistaken  for  the  first  Obmokhu  exhibition, 
has  caused  lakulov  and  Lentulov  to  be  included  among 

Ofettrao  Mo»oflH:i 


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fig- 4 

Invoice  from  Obmokhu  to  Narkompros.  October  28,  ip20.  The 
document  is  stamped  with  two  Obmokhu  seals  designed  by 
Vladimir  Stenberg. 
Central  State  Archive  of  Russia,  Moscow. 


Obmokhu's  members.  Yet,  as  will  become  clear  below,  Iakulov 
and  Lentulov  never  participated  in  Obmokhu's  exhibitions  and 
cannot  be  counted  as  members  of  the  group  (as  they  are  in 
numerous  descriptions  of  Obmokhu  and  in  articles  and 
monographs  on  their  work). 

The  "decorative  and  production"  principle  singled  out  in 
the  description  of  the  exhibited  works — a  principle  that  was  to 
enable  the  "revolutionizing  of  everyday  life" — is  especially 
noteworthy.  The  introduction  of  "art  into  life" — the  chief 
slogan  of  the  future  Productivists  and  Constructivists — was 
naturally  bound  to  play  a  defining  role  in  the  educational 
program  of  the  First  Free  State  Art  Workshops.  But  the 
evolution  and  instilling  of  new  forms  followed  a  turbulent, 
contentious  course;  Echeistov  wrote  in  the  September  27—29, 
1919,  letter  cited  above:  "Tatlin  is  leaving  for  Petrograd  for 
good,  with  tears  in  his  eyes  because  he  wasn't  understood  at  the 
Stroganov;  and  he  won't  have  anything  to  do  with  the  Second 
Workshops  [the  Second  State  Free  Art  Workshops,  created 
from  the  Moscow  School  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and 
Architecture],  doesn't  acknowledge  them.  He  got  a 
commission  and  is  going. "',  Open  conflicts  between  the 
"purists"  and  Productivists  would  soon  rattle  artistic  life,  and 
the  departure  of  the  wounded  Tatlin  anticipates,  as  it  were,  the 
schism  inside  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of  Artistic  Culture) — 
though  at  Inkhuk,  it  would  be  the  easel  painters  who  would 
depart,  leaving  the  field  to  the  Productivists. 

The  principle  of  exhibiting  by  workshop  adhered  to  at  the 
1919  showcase  exhibition  did  shape  the  true  first  Obmokhu 
exhibition,  which  opened  in  May  1920  at  the  First  Free  State 
Art  Workshops  at  11  Rozhdestvenka.  The  poster  announcing 
the  exhibition  (fig.  no.  3)  read: 

•fTOFUMHM  06M'JX.y  npwr/TauaaeT 

SA^   Ha  crHObiTMo    STOPCH   BE- 

OEHHEM  awcTastui  O  6  M  O  X  Y 

22  re  Man  1921  ro  rop,a.  b  1  nao  aha. 

J?.  2>Mumpo&kc;  d.  11 

R.fl».  ASHUCOBGHHii  •  ~r  A.H.HajTMOB  ' 

4  Mi.  EpemiHtB    •  -r  A.cnepeKaioB  • 

U.K.  SamsiSKiiH   •  -r  H,c,  ilpycaitoB  - 

K.HorBHCOH     ;  -i    A.H.POflHBHKO 

B.fl. 'iuMapASHKOB  •  4-  ClCeeTJiOB - 

+  CH-flCCTKH  •  Y-  H.K-Me/l?ReUHHH  ' 

+  r  A.GTeHSspr      ■  8.A.CT8n6epr  - 

fig-  5 

Invitation  card  to  Obmokhu  exhibition,  Moscow,  May -June  1921. 

First  State  Free  Art  Workshops 
(11  Rozhdestvenka) 

Sunday,  May  2nd  at  ip.m.  Opening  of  the  Obmokhu  (Society  of 
Young  Painters)  exhibition. 

Participants:  A.  Naumov,  S.  Svetlov,  N.  Denisovskii,  S.  Kostin, 
V.  Stenberg,  G.  Stenberg,  K.  Medunetskii,  V.  Komardenkov, 
A.  Perekatov,  A.  Zamoshkin,  Eremichev,  D.  lakovlev. 

Opening  remarks  will  be  delivered  by  A.  V.  Lunacharskii. 

Speakers:  Comrades  L.  B.  Kamenev, 
0.  D.  Kameneva, 
D.  P.  Shterenberg, 
0.  M.  Brik, 
G.  B.  Iakulov. 

Admission  on  opening  day  is  by  invitation,  and  unrestricted  on  other 

The  exhibition  will  be  open  May  2-16,  from  1-6 p.m. 

The  "workshop  without  a  supervisor"  and  the  "Iakulovists" 
and  "Lentulovists"  (not  listed  alphabetically  but  grouped  by 
workshop  on  the  poster)  were  represented  at  the  exhibition.  For 
a  number  of  the  students — including  Georgii  and  Vladimir 
Stenberg,  Vasilii  Komardenkov,  Aleksandr  Zamoshkin,  and 
Prusakov — the  exhibition  marked  the  occasion  of  their 
graduation.  Sketches  for  festive  decorations  of  streets  and 
buildings  and  for  the  decoration  of  trains  and  ships,  posters, 
designs  for  stage  sets  and  costumes,  and  experimental  works 
were  on  display. 

The  usefulness  of  such  design  work  for  various  educational 
and  propaganda  undertakings  of  the  Soviet  state  was  obvious, 
and  the  leaders  of  Narkompros,  headed  by  Anatolii 
Lunacharskii,  decided  to  create  an  agit-production  workshop 
from  Obmokhu.  Space  for  the  workshop  was  found  in  the 


former  Faberge  shop  at  4  Kuznetskii  most  (on  the  corner  of 
Neglinnaia  Street),  and  funds  for  outfitting  it  were  approved 
by  Narkompros  in  September  1920. '6 

Obmokhu  functioned  not  only  as  an  association  of  like- 
minded  artists  but,  above  all,  as  a  Productivist  artel,  filling 
commissions  and  serving  the  artistic  needs  of  the  new  society 
and  the  new  state.  Surviving  documents  give  some  idea  of 
Obmokhu's  activities  in  1920-21:  Narkompros 's  Financial 
Department  paid  out  specific  sums  "for  the  execution  of  a 
poster  supporting  the  Decree  on  the  Abolition  of  Illiteracy," 
"for  the  execution  of  four  stamps  for  the  All-Russian  Special 
Commission  to  Abolish  Illiteracy,"  for  stencils,  ornaments, 
slogan  boards,  and  so  on.  A  commission  for  "thirty-six 
monumental  panels,"  to  be  made  from  sheets  of  iron  roofing, 
was  received  and  filled  (fig.  no.  4).  The  accounts  and  financial 
documents  were  signed  by  both  Denisovskii,  Obmokhu's 
president,  and  by  Vladimir  Stenberg,  who  signed  himself  as 
"chief  of  production"  (and  sometimes  as  president).'7 

This  artel  work  provided  the  members  of  Obmokhu  with 
their  livelihood.  Orders,  which  came  chiefly  from  the 
departments  and  commissions  of  Narkompros,  were  filled 
collectively,  hence  the  credit  for  them  was  also  collective — the 
artel's  "artistic  production"  was  signed  only  "Obmokhu." 
Payment  was  likewise  shared  equally  among  all  members  who 
had  helped  fill  a  commission — and  these  included  artists  who 
never  displayed  their  work  at  Obmokhu's  exhibitions.'8 

It  was  the  second  Obmokhu  exhibition,  known  in  the 
scholarly  literature  as  the  third,  that  ensured  the  group's  fame. 
That  it  was  indeed  the  second  rather  than  the  third  is  reflected 
in  the  invitation  card  to  the  exhibition  (fig.  no.  5),  whose 
announcement  of  Obmokhu's  Vtoraia  vesenniaia  vystavka  (Second 
Spring  Exhibition)  has  been  a  source  of  bewilderment  to  scholars 
trusting  Lobanov's  enumeration."  The  exhibition  poster 
prepared  by  Komardenkov  (fig.  no.  6)  states  explicitly, 
moreover,  that  the  exhibition  was  organized  by  Narkompros;  it 
was  officially  the  Twenty-Second  Exhibition  of  the  Central 
Section  of  Izo  Narkompros.  Lobanov  skipped  over  this  fact, 
which  didn't  jibe  with  his  scheme  of  antithetical  "eclectic 
Narkompros  exhibitions"  and  exhibitions  of  "artists  united  by 
a  shared  principle."  The  exhibitors  listed  on  the  invitation  card 
were,  with  the  exception  of  Karl  Ioganson  and  Aleksandr 
Rodchenko,  mechanically  transcribed  by  Lobanov  onto  his  list 
of  the  "founders  of  Obmokhu."20 

The  second  Obmokhu  exhibition  opened  in  Moscow  on 
May  22,  1921,  at  11  Bol'shaia  Dmitrovka,  the  former  Mikhailova 
Salon.  Though  Rodchenko  and  Ioganson  participated  in  the 
exhibition,  their  works,  along  with  those  of  Konstantin 
Medunetskii  and  Georgii  and  Vladimir  Stenberg,  were  shown 
in  a  separate  hall — constituting,  as  it  were,  an  exhibition 
within  the  exhibition,  as  the  famous  installation  photographs 
documenting  the  displays  of  only  Rodchenko's  "faction," 
confirm.  Those  months  were  a  period  of  turmoil  for  the 
proponents  of  production  art,  and  in  that  context  the  second 
Obmokhu  exhibition  was  used  as  a  forum  for  asserting  the  new 
forms  championed  by  the  First  Working  Group  of 
Constructivists  of  Inkhuk,  a  group  which  had  formed  in  the 
spring  of  1921  and  almost  all  of  whose  members  (Aleksei  Gan 
and  Varvara  Stepanova  were  the  exceptions)  participated  in  the 
second  Obmokhu  exhibition.  So  voluminous  is  the  literature, 
generously  sprinkled  with  documentary  material,  that  has  been 
devoted  to  the  emergence  and  development  of  Constructivism 
in  Russian  art  that  there  is  no  need  to  dwell  here  on  the 
significance  of  the  second  Obmokhu  exhibition.  It  ought 
rather  to  be  emphasized  that,  thanks  to  this  exhibition,  the 
character  of  Obmokhu  has  forevermore  been  painted,  so  to 
speak,  in  Constructivist  colors.  For  both  contemporaries  and 
succeeding  generations,  Obmokhu  has  been  indissolubly 




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Poster  for  Obmokhu  exhibition,  Moscow,  May  —June  1921. 
Collection  N.  D.  Lobanov-Rostovsky. 


linked  with  the  early  stage  of  Constructivism,  overshadowing 
and  supplanting  other  aspects  of  Obmokhu's  collective 
endeavor.  The  discussions  which  took  place  at  Inkhuk  in  late 
1921  solidified  Obmokhu's  status  as  a  "society  of 

The  "color  constructions,"  "constructions  of  spatial 
structures,"  and  "spatial  constructions"  shown  at  the  second 
Obmokhu  exhibition  were  the  fruit  of  "laboratory 
Constructivism,"  of  the  theoretical  and  practical  formulations 
worked  out  by  the  First  Working  Group  of  Constructivists,  to 
which  the  five  exhibitors  with  Obmokhu — Ioganson, 
Rodchenko,  Medunetskii,  and  Georgii  and  Vladimir 
Stenberg — belonged  from  the  first  months  of  Inkhuk's 
existence.  The  "constructions  of  spatial  structures"  exhibited 
by  the  Stenbergs  also  had  a  direct  connection  with  the  program 
of  study  and  student  assignments  in  the  special  laboratory  of 
Vkhutemas's  Architecture  Faculty  which  Vladimir  Stenberg — 
senior  assistant  in  the  laboratory — had  developed  in  close 
collaboration  with  the  laboratory  head,  Anton  Lavinskii.21 

The  conjunction  of  "laboratory"  works  of  early 
Constructivism,  on  the  one  hand,  and,  on  the  other,  distinctly 
utilitarian  posters  promoting  the  measures  of  the  All-Russian 
Special  Commission  to  Abolish  Illiteracy  made  for  the  diversity 
and  heterogeneity  of  both  the  second  Obmokhu  exhibition  and 
the  production  of  Obmokhu  as  a  whole.  Further  self-definition 
by  the  participants  in  Obmokhu's  exhibitions  and 
crystallization  of  their  artistic  aspirations  could  lead  only  to 
splintering  and  the  collapse  of  the  society.  The  Stenbergs  and 
Medunetskii  formed  a  group  of  their  own,  forthrightly  calling 
themselves  Konstruktivisty  (the  Constructivists);  their 
exhibition  opened  in  January  1922. 

In  the  autumn  of  1922,  the  members  of  Obmokhu  showed 
their  work  at  the  Erste  russiscbe  Kunstausstellung  {First  Russian 
Art  Exhibition,  Berlin);  Obmokhu's  president,  Denisovskii,  had 
expended  great  effort  on  collecting  and  organizing  work  for  the 
exhibition.22  It  is  impossible,  however,  to  label  this  Obmokhu's 
last  collaborative  venture,  for  each  of  Obmokhu's  members 
showed  his  own  individual  works.  In  contrast  to,  say,  the 
"Vitebsk  school" — which  was  set  off  both  at  the  exhibition  and 
in  the  exhibition  catalogue — Obmokhu  did  not  exhibit  as  such 
in  Berlin;  by  the  time  of  the  Berlin  exhibition,  Obmokhu  no 
longer  existed. 

"The  members  of  Obmokhu,"  Lobanov  writes,  "organized 
their  fourth  exhibition  in  conjunction  with  the  Congress  of  the 
Comintern,  showing  their  current  Productivist  works."2' 
Nineteen  twenty-three  is  the  year  assigned  to  this  putative 
exhibition  in  the  first  volume  oiVystavki  sovetskogo 
izobrazitel'nogo  iskusstva  {Exhibitions  of  Soviet  Fine  Art),  a 
reference  work  cited  in  all  subsequent  publications.24  There 
was,  however,  no  Congress  of  the  Comintern  in  1923; 
congresses  were  held  in  1919,  1920,  1921,  1922,  1924,  1928,  and 
1935.  An  extensive  program  of  cultural  events  did  coincide  with 
the  Third  Congress  of  the  Comintern,  held  in  Moscow  in 
June-July  1921.  The  Hotel  Kontinental1,  where  the  congress 
delegates  were  housed,  was  the  site  of  an  exhibition  that 
included  works  by  Kazimir  Malevich,  Tatlin,  Il'ia  Mashkov, 
and  others;  a  fragment  of  this  exhibition  is  visible  in  a 
photograph  taken  of  a  group  of  delegates.2'  Lobanov  was  surely 
describing  this  1921  exhibition,  inasmuch  as  in  November  1922 
all  events  in  honor  of  the  Fourth  Congress  of  the  Comintern 
were  held  in  Petrograd;  and  in  1923,  as  has  already  been  noted, 
there  was  no  congress  at  all.  It  is  highly  unlikely  that 
Obmokhu  mounted  two  different  exhibitions  in  June  1921;  the 
second  Obmokhu  exhibition  on  Bol'shaia  Dmitrovka,  which 
opened  at  the  end  of  May  and  was,  consequently,  on  view  in 
June,  was  Obmokhu's  response  to  the  Congress  of  the 
Comintern.  A  number  of  works  by  Obmokhu  apparently  were 

shown  at  the  Hotel  Kontinental1  exhibition  (information  on 
this  exhibition  is  extremely  hard  to  come  by),  but  one  would 
be  hard  pressed  to  call  it  the  fourth  Obmokhu  exhibition. 

The  catalogue  of  the  Vtoraia  vystavka  kinoplakata  {Second 
Exhibition  of  Film  Posters),  held  in  Moscow  in  February  1926,  is 
the  last  place  in  which  the  name  Obmokhu  appears  to  denote 
the  affiliation  of  one  or  another  artist.  It  is  true  that  only 
Naumov,  Prusakov,  and  Grigorii  Borisov  (Prusakov's 
collaborator  on  many  film  posters)  are  listed  here  as  members 
of  Obmokhu.  Neither  the  Stenbergs  nor  Medunetskii  nor 
Rodchenko,  all  of  whom  also  participated  in  the  exhibition,  are 
cited  as  such  (which  is  only  natural  in  the  case  of  Rodchenko: 
like  Ioganson,  he  was  never  identified  anywhere  as  a  "member 
of  Obmokhu").  This  forces  one  to  assume  that,  for  the  former 
members  of  the  First  Working  Group  of  Constructivists,  the 
alliance  with  Obmokhu  was  a  brief  episode;  they  did  not  in  the 
mid-i920s  include  themselves  among  its  active  members. 

These  facts  about  the  history  of  Obmokhu,  then,  are  clear. 
The  association  initially  called  Obmolkhud  began  forming  in 
the  autumn  of  1919  at  the  First  Free  State  Art  Workshops,  the 
former  Stroganov  School.  Its  initiators  were  students  in  the 
"workshop  without  a  supervisor"  (Aleksandrov,  Echeistov, 
Egorov,  Glushkov,  Kozlova,  Menshutin,  Naumov,  Prusakov, 
Svetlov,  Zharova,  and  Zhukov),  joined  by  the  "Iakulovists" 
(Denisovskii,  Kostin,  Medunetskii,  and  Georgii  and  Vladimir 
Stenberg)  and  the  "Lentulovists"  (Mikhail  Eremichev,  Iakovlev, 
Komardenkov,  Perekatov,  and  Zamoshkin).  A  portion  of  the 
first  group  (Aleksandrov,  Echeistov,  Egorov,  Menshutin, 
Svetlov,  and  Zhukov)  were  also  students  of  Iakulov's. 

Obmokhu  organized  two  exhibitions.  The  first  Obmokhu 
exhibition  was  held  May  2—16,  1920,  at  the  First  Free  State  Art 
Workshops  at  11  Rozhdestvenka,  the  second  (the  Twenty- 
Second  Exhibition  of  the  Central  Section  of  Izo  Narkompros) 
in  May-June  1921  at  the  former  Mikhailova  Salon  at  11 
Bol'shaia  Dmitrovka.  It  is  possible  that  Obmokhu  participated 
in  a  June  1921  exhibition,  at  the  Hotel  Kontinental1  on 
Teatral'naia  Square,  that  coincided  with  the  Third  Congress  of 
the  Comintern.  Those  who  participated  in  the  two  Obmokhu 
exhibitions  were  Denisovskii,  Eremichev,  Iakovlev,  Ioganson, 
Komardenkov,  Kostin,  Medunetskii,  Naumov,  Perekatov, 
Prusakov,  Rodchenko,  Georgii  and  Vladimir  Stenberg,  Svetlov, 
and  Zamoshkin.  The  activity  of  Obmokhu  reached  its  peak  in 
the  1920-21  season,  after  which  it  fell  off;  in  1922,  Obmokhu 
ceased  to  function. 

Following  Obmokhu's  dissolution,  three  of  the  participants 
in  its  exhibitions — Medunetskii  and  Georgii  and  Vladimir 
Stenberg — formed  the  Constructivists  group  in  1922,  while  in 
1925  Denisovskii  and  Kostin  joined  Ost  (the  Society  of  Easel 
Painters).  Denisovskii  and  Kostin,  along  with  Svetlov,  also 
participated  in  joint  exhibitions  with  Iakulov,  which  were 
designated  "exhibitions  of  Iakulov  and  his  workshop."2' 

— Translated,  from  the  Russian,  by  Jane  Bobko 



i.  V.  M.  Lobanov,  Khudozhestvennye  gruppirovki  za  poslednie  25  let 
(Moscow:  Obshchestvo  AKhR,  1930),  pp.  87,  90.  Lobanov  was 
taken  "at  his  word"  by  the  compilers  of  Vystavki  sovetskogo 
izobrazitel'nogo  iskusstva,  where  the  Twenty-First  State 
Exhibition  is  likewise  labeled  Izo  Narkompros's  "last."  Vystavki 
sovetskogo  izobrazitel'nogo  iskusstva.  Spravocbnik  (Moscow: 
Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1965),  vol.  I,  p.  74. 

2.  The  invitation  card  reads:  "June  1921.  Twenty-Third 
Exhibition  of  the  Central  Section  of  Izo  Narkompros.  Murals 
by  the  artist  Marc  Chagall  ...  In  the  hall  of  the  State  Jewish 
Kamernyi  Theater  (12  Bol'shoi  Chernyshevskii)." 

3.  Lobanov,  Khudozhestvennye  gruppirovki,  p.  105. 

4.  On  Shchetinin's  life  and  work,  see  A.  S.  Shatskikh, 
'"Prorubaia  okno  v  chelovecheskoe  miroponimanie  .  .  .'  Zhizn' 
G.  B.  Shchetinina  (1891— 1921),"  in  Panorama  iskusstv  8 (Moscow. 
Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1985),  pp.  255-74. 

5.  Echeistov's  letters  and  autobiography  cited  below  are  in  a 
private  archive,  Moscow. 

6.  Nikolai  Musatov,  conversation  with  author,  October  1985. 
Musatov,  born  in  1895,  was  a  student  of  Iakulov's  in  the  First 
Free  State  Art  Workshops. 

7.  Thus  Denisovskii  and  Musatov  worked  only  in  Iakulov's 
special  workshop,  Zamoshkin  and  Komardenkov  only  in 
Lentulov's,  and  so  on. 

8.  G[eorgii]  Shch[etinin],  "I-yi  god  raboty  gosudarstvennykh 
khudozhestvennykh  masterskikh,"  Iskusstvo  7  (August  2,  1919), 
PP-  4-5- 

9.  Lidiia  Zharova-Naumova,  conversation  with  author, 
September  1983. 

10.  Thus  Denisovskii  gave  1919  as  the  year  of  his  graduation, 
Komardenkov  1919  or  1920,  and  the  Stenbergs  1920.  As  for  the 
students  in  the  "workshop  without  a  supervisor,"  Aleksandrov, 
for  example,  graduated  from  Vkhutemas  in  1924,  Zhukov  in 
1920,  Menshutin  in  1922,  Prusakov  in  1920,  and  Svetlov  in 
1924.  Manuscript  Division,  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow, 

11.  He  was  referring,  according  to  Zharova-Naumova,  to 
Grigor'ev's  "appropriation"  of  the  conception  behind  Kostin's 
stage-design  work.  A  stage  designer,  painter,  and  graphic 
artist,  Kostin — the  nephew  of  N.  N.  Sapunov — later  created 
many  sets  for  the  Bol'shoi  Theater.  Lidiia  Zharova-Naumova, 
conversation  with  author,  September  1983. 

12.  The  bylaws  Echeistov  mentions  evidently  resembled  to 
some  degree  those  of  Mastarchuv.  Mastarchuv  was  created  by 
Shchetinin  and  Echeistov  in  January  1919.  See  Shatskikh, 
'"Prorubaia  okno  v  chelovecheskoe  miroponimanie  .  .  .,'" 
pp.  264-65. 

13.  A  photograph  of  Zharova-Naumova  taken  in  the  burned- 
out  workshop  is  reproduced  in  V.  Dokuchaeva,  Lidiia  Naumova 
(Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1984),  p.  8. 

14.  "Vystavka  rabot  pervykh  gosudarstvennykh  svobodnykh 
khudozhestvennykh  masterskikh,"  Iskusstvo  6  (July  8,  1919), 

p.  2. 

15.  Echeistov's  letter  makes  it  possible  to  be  still  more  exact 
about  the  date  of  Tallin's  departure  from  the  Moscow  Svomas 
and  indicates  one  reason  for  it.  The  work  commissioned  from 
Tatlin  was  a  monument  in  honor  of  the  anniversary  of  the 
October  Revolution;  as  work  on  the  monument  progressed,  it 
became  the  model  for  the  Pamiatnik  Ill-emu  Internatsionalu 
{Monument  to  the  Third  International). 

16.  "Agitatsionno-proizvodstvennaia  masterskaia  Vysshikh 
gosudarstvennykh  khudozhestvennykh  masterskikh.  Smeta," 
Central  State  Archive  of  Russia,  Moscow,  f.  2306,  op.  31, 

d.  617,1.  53. 

17.  Quoted  from  documents  in  the  Central  State  Archive  of 
Russia,  Moscow,  f.  2306,  op.  31,  ed.  khr.  614,  1.  83,  84,  98. 

18.  Komardenkov 's  memoirs,  published  in  abbreviated  form  as 
Dni  minuvshie  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1972)  are 
available  in  a  fuller  variant  in  the  Central  State  Archive  for 
Literature  and  Art,  Moscow,  f.  1337,  op.  3,  ed.  khr.  49.  Written 
late  in  Komardenkov 's  life,  these  memoirs  contain  many 
inaccuracies  and  distortions,  making  it  impossible  to  rely  on 
them  to  establish  a  consistent  history  of  Obmokhu.  Many 
particulars  recalled  by  the  artist,  however,  do  allow  one  to 
reconstruct  the  day-to-day  life  of  Obmokhu.  Komardenkov 
describes  in  detail  Obmokhu's  functioning  as  an  artistic- 
production  artel. 

19.  Christina  Lodder  has  paid  particular  attention  to  this 
apparent  inconsistency,  but  advances  an  unlikely  proposition: 
"The  invitation  to  the  1921  show  used  the  title  Second  Spring 
Exhibition  rather  than  Second  Exhibition,  so  it  is  possible  that 
this  was  the  group's  second  spring  exhibition  but  its  third 
show  overall.  (According  to  Lobanov,  the  1919  exhibition  also 
opened  in  the  spring.)  This  seems  the  most  probable 
explanation."  Christina  Lodder,  "Constructivism  and 
Productivism  in  the  1920s,"  in  Art  Into  Life:  Russian 
Constructivism.  1914-1932.  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by 
the  Henry  Art  Gallery,  University  of  Washington,  Seattle,  the 
Walker  Art  Center,  Minneapolis,  and  the  State  Tret'yakov 
Gallery,  Moscow  (New  York:  Rizzoli,  1990),  p.  102. 

20.  Lobanov,  Kudozhestvennye  gruppirovki.  p.  104. 

21.  Central  State  Archive  for  Literature  and  Art,  Moscow, 
f.  681,  op.  2,  ed.  khr.  411,  1.  13. 

22.  V.  P.  Lapshin,  "Pervaia  vystavka  russkogo  iskusstva.  Berlin. 
1922  god.  Materialy  k  istorii  sovetsko-germanskikh 
khudozhestvennykh  sviazei,"  Sovetskoe  iskusstvoznanie  1  (1982). 
pp.  327-62. 

23.  Lobanov,  Khudozhestvennye  gruppirovki .  p.  105. 

24.  "Chetvertaia  vystavka  Obmokhu,"  in  Vystavki  sovetskogo 
izobrazitel'nogo  iskusstva.  p.  114.  The  information  about  the 
exhibition  given  here  relies  on  a  single  source — Lobanov. 

25.  Kommunisticheskii  internatsional  18  (1921),  p.  4708. 

26.  See,  for  example,  the  notice  "Vystavka  Iakulova,"  Ermitazh 
12  (August  1-7,  1922),  p.  14. 



^91  ps^**'*;  EKES 



fig.  I 

V/'w  ofObmokhu  exhibition,  Moscow,  May-June  ip2i. 


The  Transition  to 

Christina  Lodder 

Constructivism  is  advancing — the  slender  child  of  an  industrial 

For  a  long  time  capitalism  has  let  it  rot  underground. 

It  has  been  liberated  by — the  Proletarian  Revolution. 

— Aleksei  Gan  (1922) 

From  painting  to  sculpture,  from  sculpture  to  construction,  from 
construction  to  technology  and  invention — this  is  my  chosen  path,  and 
will  surely  be  the  ultimate  goal  of  every  revolutionary  artist. 

— Karl  loganson  (ip22) 

The  rediscovery  of  Russian  Constructivism  has  been  a  striking 
phenomenon  of  the  past  decade.  The  movement  has  acquired  a 
heroic  status  for  certain  critics  and  artists  of  a  Postmodernist 
persuasion.  At  the  same  time,  original  works  and  documents 
have  begun  to  emerge  from  the  former  Soviet  Union, 
permitting  a  more  detailed  and  complex  historical 
understanding  of  the  period.  This  essay  focuses  on  the  initial 
emergence  of  a  Constructivist  position  within  the  Russian 
avant-garde  and,  in  particular,  on  the  extraordinary  exhibition 
that  marked  its  first  public  manifestation,  the  Obmokhu  (the 
Society  of  Young  Artists)  show  of  May  1921. 

The  idea  of  Constructivism  has  become  a  critical 
commonplace,  variously  understood,  but  at  the  moment  of  its 
invention  it  clearly  carried  specific  implications  and  a  real 
polemical  edge.  The  First  Working  Group  of  Constructivists, 
also  known  as  the  Working  Group  of  Constructivists,  was 
formed  in  March  1921,  within  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of  Artistic 
Culture)  in  Moscow.'  The  group  comprised  Aleksei  Gan, 
Varvara  Stepanova,  Aleksandr  Rodchenko,  Karl  loganson, 
Konstantin  Medunetskii,  and  the  brothers  Georgii  and 
Vladimir  Stenberg.2  They  seem  to  have  come  together  during 
the  fascinating  theoretical  discussions  conducted  at  Inkhuk 
during  the  previous  three  months,  discussions  which  addressed 
the  distinction  that  artists  were  starting  to  make  between 
construction  and  composition  as  principles  of  artistic 
organization.  The  self-proclaimed  Constructivists  were  united 
in  their  commitment  to  a  viewpoint  articulated  by  Rodchenko 
in  January  1921:  "All  new  approaches  to  art  arise  from 
technology  and  engineering  and  move  toward  organization  and 
construction,"  and  "real  construction  is  utilitarian  necessity."' 
Such  a  stance  seemed  indeed  to  crystallize  their  response  to  the 
pressing  question  of  how  artists  could  contribute  to  the  new 
Communist  order  and  celebrate  the  values  inherent  in  the 
Bolshevik  Revolution  of  1917. 

In  their  draft  program  of  April  1,  1921,  written  by  Gan,  the 
group  proclaimed  a  new  synthesis  of  art  and  industry.  They 
wanted  to  relegate  their  purely  artistic  explorations  to  the  role 
of  "laboratory  work,"  and  to  extend  their  experiments  with 
manipulating  three-dimensional  abstract  forms  into  the  real 
environment  by  participating  in  the  industrial  manufacture  of 
useful  objects.  They  called  the  new  type  of  activity  that  they 
envisaged  "intellectual  production,"  proclaiming  that  their 
ideological  foundation  was  "scientific  communism,  built  on 
the  theory  of  historical  materialism"  and  that  they  intended  to 
attain  "the  communistic  expression  of  material  structures"  by 
organizing  their  material  according  to  the  three  principles  of 
tektonika  (tectonics,  or  the  socially  and  politically  appropriate 
use  of  industrial  material),  construction  (the  organization  of 
this  material  for  a  given  purpose),  and  faktura  (the  conscious 
handling  and  manipulation  of  it).4 

The  strategies  they  proposed  included  investigating  the 
Soviet  building  industry  and  establishing  links  with 
committees  in  charge  of  production.  These  measures  were  to  be 
accompanied  by  a  highly  organized  propaganda  campaign  of 
exhibitions  and  publications  that  would  include  a  weekly 
journal,  Vestnik  intellektual'nogo proizvodstva  {The  Herald  of 
Intellectual  Production)  and  a  bulletin.  Gan  explained: 

In  order  to  put  our  work  on  show,  an  exhibition  of  Constructivist 
spatial  works  should  be  staged,  as  testimony  not  only  to  what  we  are 
doing  today  but  also  to  what  we  are  aiming  for  and  the  tasks  that  we 
have  set  ourselves. 5 

Accordingly,  about  two  months  after  the  formation  of  the 
group,  some  of  the  Constructivists  showed  their  current 
practical  work  at  the  Vtoraia  vesenniaia  vystavka  (Second  Spring 
Exhibition)  of  Obmokhu,  more  commonly  known  as  the  third 


Obmokhu  exhibition,  which  opened  on  May  22,  1921.6 
Altogether,  fourteen  artists  participated:  Nikolai  Denisovskii, 
Mikhail  Eremichev,  Aleksandr  Zamoshkin,  Vasilii 
Komardenkov,  Sergei  Kostin,  Aleksandr  Naumov,  Aleksandr 
Perekatov,  Nikolai  Prusakov,  and  Sergei  Svetlov,  as  well  as  the 
Constructivists  Medunetskii  and  the  Stenberg  brothers — who 
were  members  of  Obmokhu — and  Ioganson  and  Rodchenko, 
who  were  specially  invited  to  contribute  to  this  one  show." 

The  previous  history  of  Obmokhu  reveals  a  radical  political 
commitment  that  would  also  underpin  Constructivism. 
Although  the  precise  chronology  of  the  group  is  still  somewhat 
unclear,  Obmokhu  seems  to  have  been  set  up  in  the  autumn  of 
1919  by  students  from  the  "workshop  without  a  supervisor"  at 
the  State  Free  Art  Workshops  in  Moscow."  The  members  had 
also  come  together  through  their  work  on  various  agitational 
projects  during  1918,  particularly  the  decorations  of  Moscow's 
streets  for  the  revolutionary  festivals.  Medunetskii  and  the 
Stenberg  brothers,  who  were  living  together  by  this  time,  had 
decorated  the  Post  Office  on  Miasnitskaia  (now  Kirov  Street) 
for  May  Day  1918  with  the  help  of  Denisovskii.9  Subsequently, 
it  appears,  they  had  worked  with  the  other  future  members  of 
Obmokhu  to  decorate  the  Rogozhsko-Simonovskii  district  of 
Moscow  for  November  1918.'0  The  artists  later  contributed 
numerous  posters  to  the  government's  propaganda  programs, 
such  as  the  Campaign  to  Abolish  Illiteracy,  and,  according  to 
V.  M.  Lobanov,  Obmokhu's  first  exhibition  was  devoted  to 
such  agitational  work,  which  was  displayed  anonymously  to 
emphasize  the  collective  nature  of  the  group's  production."  He 
described  the  contents  of  their  second  exhibition  as  mainly 
posters,  with  a  small  number  of  abstract  works  and 
tsvetokonstruktsii  (color  constructions),  presumably  paintings. 
Lobanov's  description  corresponds  to  A.  A.  Sidorov's  review  of 
the  May  1920  show,  which  suggests  that  some  three- 
dimensional  constructions  were  shown;  Sidorov  mentions 
"a  statue  ...  by  comrade  Stenberg  made  of  sheet  metal," 
alongside  paintings  by  Naumov  and  others  in  the  style  of  Boris 
Grigor'ev  and  Georgii  Iakulov.'2  Lobanov's  account  identifies 
Obmokhu's  Second  Spring  Exhibition  as,  in  fact,  their  third 
exhibition  overall,  and  this  was  confirmed  by  Vladimir 
Stenberg  many  years  later."  He  recalled  that  the  third 
Obmokhu  exhibition  was  held  "in  a  kind  of  salon-cafe  on 
Bolshaya  Dmitrovka  Street  and  Kuznetsky  Bridge."'4 

There  was  no  catalogue  for  the  exhibition,  although  the 
invitation  card  survives.  Fortunately,  two  installation 
photographs  were  reproduced  soon  after  the  event:  one  view  in 
the  spring  of  1922  in  the  journal  Veshch'/Gegenstand/Objet 
(Object),  edited  by  El  Lissitzky  and  Il'ia  Erenburg  in  Berlin 
(fig.  no.  i),'s  and  the  other  the  same  year  in  the  Hungarian 
avant-garde  magazine  Egyseg  (Unity),  published  by  Bela  Uitz  in 
Vienna  (fig.  no.  2)."'  The  two  images  show  adjacent  corners  of  a 
large  hall,  in  which  constructions  by  Rodchenko,  Ioganson,  the 
Stenbergs,  and  Medunetskii  are  visible,  as  well  as  abstract 
paintings,  some  of  which  can  now  be  identified  as  works  by  the 
Stenberg  brothers  and  Medunetskii.  The  two  photographs  are 
devoted  exclusively  to  the  works  by  the  First  Working  Group 
of  Constructivists  and  give  no  indication  of  what  the  other  nine 
artists  showed.  Indeed,  Egyseg  labeled  its  photograph  of  the 
exhibition  "The  Constructivists  at  the  Obmokhu  Exhibition" 
and  included  separate  illustrations  of  work  by  Vladimir 
Stenberg  and  Ioganson  (fig.  no.  3).'"  The  photograph  of  the 
Stenberg  construction  was  almost  certainly  taken  at  the 
exhibition,  as  the  molding  on  the  ceiling  conforms  to  that  in 
the  two  views  of  the  show.  Egyseg  also  printed  translations  of 
the  program  of  the  Constructivist  group  ("A  Konstruktivistak 
Csoportjanak  Programmja")  together  with  "The  Realistic 
Manifesto"  ("Realista  Kialtvany")  produced  in  August  1920  by 
Naum  Gabo  and  Antoine  Pevsner,  albeit  without  mentioning 

the  authors  of  either  statement.'8  It  is  possible  that  the 
Prusakov  picture  reproduced  in  Egyseg  was  another  exhibit, 
since  it  is  captioned  "Gepkonstrukcio.  Pruszakov 
('OBMOHU').  Moszkva.  1921.""'  If  so,  this  is  the  only  evidence 
concerning  the  work  of  other  artists  in  the  exhibition. 
Although  entitled  Machine  Construction  in  the  Hungarian  label, 
this  is  a  schematized  figurative  image,  posterlike  in  style  and 
apparently  evoking  the  proletariat  at  work  and  leisure.  It  thus 
serves  to  underline  the  essential  innovation  of  the 
Constructivists — their  evocation  of  a  contemporary  industrial 
imagery  through  the  language  of  materials  and  abstract  form 
rather  than  through  illustrative  subject  matter.  The  show  was 
certainly  acclaimed  at  the  time  for  its  highly  original 
explorations  of  a  new  kind  of  constructed  sculpture.  For 
instance,  Ulen  (possibly  Lissitzky  writing  under  a  pseudonym), 
in  a  survey  of  Russian  exhibitions  published  in  Object  in  1922, 

The  exhibitions  of  Obmokhu  were  new  in  form.  There  we  saw  art 
works  not  only  hanging  on  the  walls  but  also  and  most  importantly 
filling  the  space  of  the  hall. 

These  young  artists  have  assimilated  the  experiences  of  the  former 
generation,  they  work  well,  they  have  a  subtle  feeling  for  the  specific 
qualities  of  materials  and  construct  spatial  works.  Moving  between  the 
technology  of  the  engineers  and  the  aimless  expediency  of  art,  they  are 
trying  to  progress  further.  2° 

The  artistic  innovations  of  the  works  exhibited  are 
discussed  in  more  detail  below,  but  it  should  be  noted  that  the 
attitudes  and  meanings  they  embodied  were  in  fact  firmly 
rooted  in  contemporary  Russian  culture.  At  a  very  general 
level,  industry  and  the  machine  were  seen  in  revolutionary 
Russia  as  the  essential  characteristics  of  the  working  class  and 
hence  of  the  new  Communist  order.  More  practically, 
industrialization  was  also  regarded  by  the  Party  and  Lenin  as 
the  key  to  political  and  social  progress  and  to  the  consolidation 
of  the  Soviet  state.  Lenin  stated  in  1918,  after  the  Treaty  of 
Brest-Litovsk:  "Those  who  have  the  best  technology, 
organization,  discipline  and  the  best  machines  emerge  on 
top  ...  It  is  necessary  to  master  the  highest  technology  or  be 
crushed."2'  This  attitude  was  epitomized  by  his  dictum 
"Communism  equals  Soviet  power  plus  the  Electrification  of 
the  Entire  Country"  and  by  his  speech  on  December  22,  1920, 
to  the  Eighth  Congress  of  Soviets  (at  which  Vladimir  Tatlin's 
Tower  was  displayed),  in  which  he  envisioned  the  future  in  the 
hands  of  the  "engineers  and  agronomists"  rather  than  of  the 
"politicians."22  With  such  official  endorsement,  the  ideas  of 
Henry  Ford  and  Frederick  Winslow  Taylor  concerning 
efficiency  in  industrial  production  attracted  considerable 
interest.2'  In  1921  the  first  conference  on  Taylor's  principles  of 
time  and  motion  (Taylorism)  established  NOT  (the  Scientific- 
Organization  of  Work).24  Aleksei  Gastev,  a  poet  committed  to  a 
Utopian  vision  of  the  triumph  of  the  machine  and  mechanization 
throughout  Russian  life,  ran  TsIT  (the  Central  Institute  of 
Labor),  which  was  dedicated  to  studying  the  human  machine 
and  creating  a  new  man  through  social  engineering.2'  Platon 
Kerzhentsev,  who  had  worked  with  Gan  in  Teo  Narkompros 
(the  Theatrical  Department  of  the  People's  Commissariat  of 
Enlightenment),  wished  to  "introduce  scientific  principles  not 
only  into  man's  economic  activity  and  production  but  into  all 
organized  activity  and  work."26  These  are  merely  instances  of  a 
prevalent  discourse  in  which  the  machine  was  both  metaphor 
for  a  new  culture  under  construction  and  the  practical  means  to 
rebuild  the  economy  for  the  collective  benefit  of  the  people. 
Nevertheless,  Gan — author  of  the  Constructivists'  program 
and  Kerzhentsev's  collaborator — links  these  ideas  directly  with 
the  emergence  of  Constructivism. 


fig.  2 

View  ofObmokhu  exhibition,  Moscow,  May-June  ip2i. 


The  same  fusion  of  ideological  and  practical  imperatives 
underlay  the  growing  idealization  of  the  machine  and  the 
worker  by  some  factions  within  the  artistic  community.  In 
November  1918  a  debate  was  held  in  the  Winter  Palace  over  the 
question  of  whether  art  was  "A  Temple  or  a  Factory."17  Nikolai 
Punin,  the  principal  speaker,  argued  that  bourgeois  art  with  its 
sacramental  character  was  no  longer  relevant  and  that  a 
proletarian  culture  would  generate  a  completely  new  kind  of 
art:  "It  is  not  a  matter  of  decoration  but  of  the  creation  of  new 
artistic  objects.  Art  for  the  proletariat  is  not  a  sacred  temple  for 
lazy  contemplation  but  work,  a  factory,  producing  artistic 
objects  for  everyone."'8  Later,  the  newspaper  hkusstvo  kommuny 
(Art  of  the  Commune)  argued  that  the  existing  division  between 
art  and  industry  was  itself  "a  survival  of  bourgeois  structures,"29 
and  Osip  Brik  announced  that  "art  is  like  any  other  means  of 
production  .  .  .  not  ideas  but  a  real  object  is  the  aim  of  all  true 
creativity."30  Such  attitudes  were  reinforced  by  official  policy. 
Izo  Narkompros  (the  Department  of  Fine  Arts  of  the  People's 
Commissariat  of  Enlightenment),  committed  to  "art's 
penetration  into  industrial  production,""  organized  a 
conference  in  August  1919,  where  the  Commissar  of 
Enlightenment,  Anatolii  Lunacharskii,  pronounced  that  "there 
is  no  doubt  that  production  art  is  closer  to  human  life  than  is 
pure  art."'2  Subsequently,  an  Art  and  Industry  Commission  was 
set  up  under  the  Council  of  People's  Commissars  to  examine 
how  art  could  be  harnessed  to  improve  the  quality  of  industrial 

Since  the  Revolution,  the  avant-garde  had,  with  some 
success,  sought  to  establish  itself  as  the  representative 
expression  of  the  new  order.  Developments  after  1919,  however, 
increasingly  involved  the  accommodation  of  the  new  values 
and  expectations  outlined  above,  prompting  a  radical 
reevaluation  of  attitudes  toward  abstraction  and  traditional 
artistic  media.  Already  in  February  1919  Punin  had  declared: 

Suprematism  has  blossomed  out  in  splendid  colour  all  over  Moscow. 

Posters,  exhibitions,  cafes — all  is  Suprematism.  And  this  is 
extraordinarily  significant.  One  can  confidently  assert  that  the  day  of 
Suprematism  is  nigh,  and  on  that  very  day  Suprematism  must  lose  its 
significance  in  creative  terms. 

What  was  Suprematism?  A  creative  invention  without  a  doubt  but 
an  invention  strictly  confined  to  painting. ,4 

Kazimir  Malevich's  departure  from  Moscow  in  the  autumn  of 
1919  has  indeed  been  attributed  to  his  "creative  isolation,""  and 
he  later  conceded  that  Suprematism  had  reached  the  climax  of 
its  influence  that  year.'6  Subsequent  developments  within 
Suprematism  suggest  the  wider  currency  of  the  impulses 
manifest  at  the  Obmokhu  exhibition.  Significantly,  in  Vitebsk 
Malevich  began  to  adapt  the  Suprematist  vocabulary  to  suit  the 
creation  of  hypothetical  architectural  complexes.'7  Likewise,  his 
follower  Lissitzky  evolved  the  proun  as  "an  interchange  station 
between  painting  and  architecture";'8  and,  lecturing  in  Berlin 
in  1922,  he  even  declared: 

Two  groups  claimed  constructivism,  the  Obmokhu  .  .  .  and  the  Unovis 
{the  Affirmers  of  the  New  Art)  .  .  . 

The  former  group  worked  in  material  and  space,  the  latter  in 
material  and  a  plane.  Both  strove  to  attain  the  same  result,  namely  the 
creation  of  the  real  object  and  of  architecture.  They  are  opposed  to  each 
other  in  their  concepts  of  the  practicality  and  utility  of  created  things. 
Some  members  of  the  Obmokhu  group  .  .  .  went  as  far  as  a  complete 
disavowal  of  art  and  in  their  urge  to  be  inventors,  devoted  their 
energies  to  pure  technology.  Unovis  distinguished  between  the  concept  of 
functionality,  meaning  the  necessity  for  the  creation  of  new  forms,  and 
the  question  of  direct  serviceableness." 

Lissitzky 's  distinction  was  clearly  valid  by  1922,  when  positions 
had  consolidated,  although  earlier  there  had  perhaps  been  a 
broader  consensus  in  the  two  groups'  explorations  of  a 
machine-age  aesthetic.  On  the  one  hand,  as  the  Obmokhu 
exhibition  demonstrates,  the  Constructivists  did  not 
immediately  abandon  the  making  of  art  objects.  On  the  other, 
the  Unovis  group  centered  around  Malevich  also  produced 
directly  functional  designs.  In  November  1920,  the  group's 
magazine  published  Il'ia  Chashnik's  project  for  a  speaker's 
rostrum  (later  reworked  by  Lissitzky  and  known  as  the 
Leninskaia  tribuna  [Lenin  Tribune,  1924,  plate  no.  142]),  where 
the  girder  construction  creates  an  emphatic  aura  of  industrial 
utility.40  Architectural  and  engineering  projects  were  also 
apparently  included  in  the  1920  and  1921  Unovis  exhibitions  in 
Moscow,4'  and  by  early  1921  Unovis  had  organized  an 
architectural  and  technical  faculty.42 

In  the  gradual  evolution  toward  a  Constructivist  stance 
within  the  Moscow  avant-garde,  particular  attention  should  be 
paid  to  the  role  of  Rodchenko  as  both  artist  and  polemicist.  In 
the  spring  of  1921  he  was  clearly  the  leading  figure  among  the 
Constructivist  contingent  at  the  Obmokhu  show.  Whereas  the 
others  were  still  students,  Rodchenko  was  one  of  the  most 
progressive  teachers  at  Vkhutemas  (the  Higher  Artistic- 
Technical  Workshops)  set  up  in  December  1920. 43 

In  January  1919,  Rodchenko,  Stepanova,  Aleksandr  Vesnin, 
and  other  members  of  Askranov  (the  Association  of  Extreme 
Innovators)  had  demanded  an  exhibition  space  from  Izo 
Narkompros  because  of  "the  sudden  death  of  Suprbez 
[Suprematism  and  Non-Objectivity],  its  vitality  pouring  into 
the  Association  of  Extreme  Innovators."44  Although  a  cogent 
chronology  of  Rodchenko 's  evolution  is  still  needed,  it  is  clear 
that  in  general  terms  he  was  seeking  to  move  beyond 
Malevich's  more  "metaphysical"  aesthetic.  He  came  to  regard 
the  creative  act  less  as  an  expression  of  personal  inspiration  and 
more  as  a  quasi-scientific  investigation  into  the  inherent 
properties  of  painting,  such  as  tone,  color,  line,  texture,  and 
organization.  Far  from  being  a  Modernist  assertion  of  the 
"autonomy"  of  art,  such  a  standpoint  represented  an  attempt, 
akin  to  that  of  the  Russian  literary  Formalists  at  precisely  this 
time,  to  reconceive  art  as  a  specialized,  quasi-scientific  activity 
and  the  artist  himself  as  a  species  of  worker. 

An  aspiration  to  establish  a  science  of  art  also  inspired  the 
foundation  of  Inkhuk  in  early  1920. *"  Rodchenko  was  among 
the  original  members  and  was  in  fact  commissioned  by  the 
Institute  to  write  his  statement  entitled  "Liniia"  ("The  Line," 
1921).  In  this  important  text,  while  discussing  new  approaches 
to  the  application  of  paint,  to  color,  and  especially  to  line  as  the 
dominant  element  in  pictorial  organization,  he  declared: 

The  imprecise,  broken  line  that  the  hand  draws  cannot  compete 
with  the  straight,  accurate  ruled  line,  which  gives  precision  to  the 

The  craft  of  painting  is  striving  to  become  more  industrial. 

Drawing  in  the  old  sense  is  losing  its  value  and  giving  way  to  the 
diagram  or  the  engineering  drawing. 

Faktura  in  painting  .  .  .  is  being  forced  out  by  mechanical 
techniques  .  .  .  which  make  it  possible  to  analyze  color,  form,  and 
material  scientifically. 4" 

The  document  is  a  precise  evocation  of  the  paintings 
Rodchenko  was  creating  around  1919  and  1920,  such  as 
Konstruktsiia  No.  97  (Construction  No.  97,  1919),  in  which  a 
machine-like  precision  in  the  articulation  of  the  surface  and  the 
linear  construction  emphasizes  the  impersonal  and  analytical 
quality  of  the  painting  process.  The  titles  that  Rodchenko  was 
now  giving  his  paintings  are  expressive  of  these  concerns  and 
also,  of  course,  interesting  in  light  of  the  subsequent  coining  of 


the  term  Constructivism. 

It  is  important  to  be  precise  about  the  emergence  of  a  new 
critical  vocabulary.  The  noun  konstruktsiia  (construction),  from 
the  Latin  constructio,  was  well  established  in  Russian  usage  by 
the  end  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Like  its  English  equivalent, 
it  acquired  clear  connotations  of  engineering,  referring  to  the 
construction  of  buildings,  technological  structures,  or 
machines.4^  In  1912,  the  theorist  Vladimir  Markov  had  adopted 
the  term  konstruktivnost'  (constructiveness)  to  denote  the 
rational,  logical  aspect  of  art."8  In  early  1919,  in  the  radical  Art 
of  the  Commune,  Ivan  Puni  used  konstruktsiia  in  its  strictly 
technical  sense  when  he  argued  against  the  idea  of  production 
art  and  contrasted  aesthetic  criteria  with  the  demands  of 

What  are  the  principles  of  a  contemporary  industrial  construction? 
Its  principle  is  maximum  utility  .  .  .  an  artist  does  not  have  the  right 
to  interfere  with  the  construction  of  an  object,  because  an  object  simply 
will  not  be  constructive  { konstruktivnyi/  if  it  is  built  according  to  the 
two  principles  of  utility  and  aesthetics.49 

Indeed,  it  was  precisely  because  konstruktsiia  carried  these 
connotations  that  the  terms  konstruktor  (constructor)  or 
khudozhnik-konstruktor  (artist-constructor)  first  appeared  in  an 
artistic  context  to  equate  the  maker  of  art  with  a  worker  in 
industry.  Thus  in  December  1918  V.  Dmitriev  emphasized  that 
the  artist  is  "now  only  a  constructor  and  technician. ",c 
Harnessing  this  technological  emphasis  to  his  own  artistic 
techniques,  Tatlin  called  his  workshop  at  the  State  Free  Art 
Workshops  in  Petrograd  (where  he  started  teaching  in  the 
spring  of  1919)  the  Workshop  of  Material,  Volume,  and 
Construction."  Certainly,  by  early  1920,  the  idea  of 
construction  that  underpinned  the  Constructivists'  approach 
seems  to  have  emerged  sufficiently  for  Vasilii  Kandinskii  to 
issue  a  warning  in  his  Inkhuk  program: 

Without  any  doubt,  positive  science  can  provide  the  Institute  with 
extremely  valuable  material .  .  .  Even  though  art  workers  right  now 
may  be  working  on  problems  of  construction  { konstruktsiia/  (art  still 
has  virtually  no  precise  rules),  they  might  try  to  find  a  positive 
solution  too  easily  and  too  ardently  from  the  engineer.  And  they  might 
accept  the  engineer's  answer  as  the  solution  for  art — quite  erroneously. 
This  is  a  very  real  danger. " 

The  adoption  of  the  term  konstruktsiia  to  describe  the  works  of 
art  themselves  may  have  been  preceded,  in  fact,  by  the  coining 
of  postroenie,  from  the  old  Russian  root  stroi  (a  building, 
structure,  or  construct).  This  had  a  broad  range  of  reference  in 
general  usage,  embracing  building  structures,  the  construction 
of  geometrical  figures,  structures  of  language  and  thought,  and 
even  the  construction  of  a  socialist  society."  In  the  catalogue  of 
the  Tenth  State  Exhibition,  Bespredmetnoe  tvorchestvo  i 
suprematizm  {Non-Objective  Creation  and  Suprematism),  which 
opened  in  Moscow  on  April  27,  1919,  Liubov'  Popova  referred 
to  pictorial  structure  as  postroenie,  although  she  alluded  to  the 
strengths  of  the  pictorial  construction  as  "sily  konstruktsii."^  At 
the  same  show,  Rodchenko's  titling  of  his  1918  paintings 
likewise  employed  postroenie,  as  in  the  groups  of  works  under 
the  headings  of  Strogoe,  nepodvizhnoe  postroenie  tsvetovykh  ploskostei 
(Severe,  Static  Structure  of  Colored  Planes)  and  Prostoe  postroenie 
tsveta  (Simple  Structure  of  Color).''''  The  emerging  artistic 
paradigm  is  epitomized  by  Gabo's  statement  in  "The  Realistic 
Manifesto"  of  August  1920,  where  he  uses  the  verb  stroit' 
(to  construct)  to  emphasize  the  identification  between  art  and 
scientific  activities:  "The  plumb-line  in  our  hand,  eyes  as 
precise  as  a  ruler,  in  a  spirit  as  taut  as  a  compass — we  construct 
our  work  as  the  universe  constructs  its  own,  as  the  engineer 

fig-  3 

Karl  loganson 

Study  in  Balance,  ca.  ip20. 

Whereabouts  unknown. 


constructs  his  bridges,  as  the  mathematician  his  formula  of  the 
orbits. ",6 

Within  a  few  months,  however,  konstruktsiia  was  evidently 
replacing  postroenie  in  avant-garde  discourse  and  acquiring  a 
more  specific  ideological  context.  At  the  Nineteenth  State 
Exhibition  in  Moscow  in  the  autumn  of  1920,  Rodchenko 
exhibited  sixteen  works  with  the  title  Konstruktsiia,  all  but  five 
dated  1919,  alongside  other  works,  of  1918—20,  that  he  called 
Kompozitsiia  (Composition)."  The  former  were  clearly  paintings; 
the  catalogue  entry  for  no.  102  reads  Konstruktsiia  No.  py 
(na  kornichevom)  (Construction  No.  py  {On  Brown}),  and  for  no. 
117  Konstruktsiia,  Maslo,  No.  11  (na  cbernom)  (Construction,  Oil, 
No.  11  {On  Black},  1920). ,s  More  research  is  needed  to  clarify  the 
distinction  and  correlate  the  surviving  works  with  the  two 
categories.  It  appears  that  the  constructions  were  more  linear 
and  flatly  painted,  as  in  Construction  No.  py,  whereas  the 
compositions  seem  to  have  been  more  planar  and  spatial,  and 
more  modulated  in  texture  and  tone;  an  entry  such  as  no.  90, 
Kompozitsiia  No.  y8  (chernoe  na  chemom)  (Composition  No.  y8 
{Black  on  Black}.  1918),  recalls  such  paintings  as  Cbernoe  na 
chemom  (Black  on  Black.  1918,  plate  no.  240).  At  the  exhibition 
Rodchenko  also  showed  ten proekty  konstruktsii  (projects  for 
constructions)  of  1920."  These  were  probably  his  designs  for 
Zhivskul'ptarkh  (the  Synthesis  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and 
Architecture  Commission),  whose  display  apparently  formed 
part  of  the  exhibition.'''  Nikolai  Khardzhiev  later  recalled 
seeing  some  of  Rodchenko 's  "pseudo-architectural,  dilettantish 
projects  for  buildings  and  a  'kiosk  for  the  sale  of  literature.'"' 
In  this  instance,  Rodchenko  was  using  konstruktsiia  in 
accordance  with  its  established  engineering  usage.  However, 
the  polemical  force  of  this  new  terminology,  with  its  still  more 
emphatic  implications  of  a  range  of  experience  outside 
bourgeois  categories  of  art,  was  most  fully  evident  in 
Rodchenko's  more  metaphorical  appropriation  of  konstruktsiia 
in  the  context  of  painting. 

The  immediate  backdrop  to  the  Obmokhu  show  was  the 
artists'  debates  about  the  distinction  between  composition  and 
construction  that  had  been  implicit  in  Rodchenko's 
contributions  to  the  Nineteenth  State  Exhibition.  These  took 
place  within  the  General  Working  Group  of  Objective 
Analysis  at  Inkhuk,  which  was  opposed,  as  its  name  suggests, 
to  the  more  subjective  methods  for  analyzing  works  of  art 
favored  by  Kandinskii,  the  founder  and  first  director  of  the 
organization.62  The  oppositional  faction  included  not  only  the 
future  Constructivists  but  also  painters  such  as  Aleksandr 
Drevin,  Popova,  Stepanova,  and  Nadezhda  Udal'tsova,  the 
architects  Vladimir  Krinskii  and  Nikolai  Ladovskii,  and 
sculptors  like  Aleksei  Babichev  and  Anton  Lavinskii.  After 
four  months  of  discussion,  between  January  and  April  1921,  the 
group  gave  rise  to  four  distinct  Working  Groups,  of  which  the 
first  to  be  established  was  the  Constructivists'.'" 

The  participants  discussed  the  issues  both  in  general  terms 
and  in  relation  to  analyses  of  specific  works.  They  also 
produced  pairs  of  drawings  illustrating  their  personal 
understanding  of  what  composition  and  construction  entailed. 
In  their  statements,  construction  was  generally  conceived  in 
terms  of  economy  of  materials,  precision,  clarity,  and 
integration  of  overall  organization,  and  conversely  the  absence 
of  anything  decorative,  superfluous,  or  self-consciously 
aesthetic.  The  divergences  revolved  around  certain  fundamental 
problems.  What  were  the  relationships  and  the  distinctions 
between  construction  in  art  and  construction  in  the  real  world 
11I  structural  design?  How  far  was  the  concept  of  construction 
compatible  with  the  medium  of  painting?  In  the  evaluations  of 
specific  paintings,  there  was  widespread  agreement  that 
Rodchenko's  paintings  alone  authentically  possessed  the 
property  of  "construction."''4  Yet  Rodchenko  himself,  like 

Ioganson,  Medunetskii,  and  the  Stenberg  brothers,  was 
increasingly  taking  the  view  that  construction  and  painting 
were  incompatible: 

/;/  structures  executed  on  a  surface,  the  "construction  "  is  only  the 
projection  of  a  potentially  real  structure,  which  in  its  surface  form  is 
merely  a  particular  type  of  sketch  or  design,  and  not  a  construction  as 

A  construction,  which  in  the  strict  and  pure  meaning  of  the  word  is 
the  organization  of  an  actual  object,  can  only  be  realized  as  material.6* 

The  most  powerful  catalyst  to  the  emergence  of  three- 
dimensional  Constructivism  was  undoubtedly  the  exhibition  in 
Moscow,  in  December  1920,  of  Tatlin's  model  for  the  Pamiatnik 
III -emu  Internatsionalu  (Monument  to  the  Third  International, 
1919-20,  fig.  no.  4),  greeted  by  Vladimir  Maiakovskii  as  "the 
first  object  of  October.""'  Tatlin  declared  that  in  this  work  he 
was  restoring  the  essential  unity  of  painting,  sculpture,  and 
architecture,  "[combining]  purely  artistic  forms  with 
utilitarian  intentions":  "The  results  of  this  are  models  which 
stimulate  us  to  inventions  in  our  work  of  creating  a  new  world 
and  which  call  upon  producers  to  exercise  control  over  the 
forms  encountered  in  our  new  everyday  life."*7  His  monument 
was  intended,  in  its  ultimate  realization,  to  be  a  functioning 
building,  a  third  higher  than  the  Eiffel  Tower,  that  would  act 
as  an  administrative  and  propaganda  center  for  the  Communist 
Third  International,  an  organization  devoted  to  fostering  world 
revolution.  Within  its  open  structure  of  iron  beams,  four 
glazed  volumes,  rotating  at  different  speeds,  were  to  house  the 
various  executive,  legislative,  and  propaganda  offices  of  the 
Comintern.  The  structural  components  of  contemporary 
engineering,  iron  and  glass — for  Tatlin,  the  "materials  of  the 
new  Classicism" — were  clearly  intended  to  express  the  new 
social  order;  as  Lissitzky  later  wrote:  "Iron  is  strong,  like  the 
will  of  the  proletariat,  glass  is  clear,  like  its  conscience."61 
Likewise  the  form  Tatlin  devised,  the  strong  diagonal  in 
conjunction  with  the  two  encircling  spirals,  expressed  in 
symbolic  terms  the  soaring  Utopian  aspirations  of  Communism 
and  the  dynamic  forces  of  historical  progress.69  The  skeletal 
apparatus  represented  a  distillation  of  new  technology,  evoking 
the  girder  construction  of  the  Eiffel  Tower  itself,  oil  derricks, 
skeleton  masts  on  ships,  cranes,  and  mine  shafts.  The  rotating 
transparent  volumes  within  this  structure  summoned  up  the 
image  of  an  enormous  machine  with  gears  and  moving  parts,  a 
machine  designed  to  generate  world  revolution.  Appropriately, 
Tatlin's  Tower  was  exhibited  in  the  building  where  the 
delegates  to  the  Eighth  Congress  of  Soviets  were  meeting  to 
discuss  such  issues  as  the  electrification  of  Russia.  The 
emphasis  on  utility,  along  with  the  scientific  and  industrial 
resonances  of  Tatlin's  simple  mathematical  forms  and 
contemporary  materials,  made  the  Tower  a  paradigm  of  new 
artistic  possibilities  for  the  avant-garde.  The  influence  of  the 
project  is  very  apparent  in  the  constructions  shown  at  the  third 
Obmokhu  exhibition  a  few  months  later. 

The  Obmokhu  exhibition  included  both  spatial  works  and 
paintings  conceived  as  "constructions."  The  installation 
photographs  do  not  reveal  whether  Rodchenko  exhibited  any 
paintings.  His  most  recent  hanging  constructions,  however, 
clearly  visible  in  fig.  no.  2,  show  a  marked  change  of  emphasis 
in  Rodchenko's  three-dimensional  work.  In  his  Belaia 
bespredmetnaia  skul'ptura  ( White  Non-Objective  Sculptures),  which 
had  been  exhibited  in  1919  (plate  no.  290),  the  focus  had  been 
on  building  up  flat  geometric  elements,  probably  made  from 
card,  to  create  quite  complex  configurations  with  overtones  of 
urban  architecture.™  In  contrast,  the  hanging  spatial 
constructions  examined  the  basic  forms  of  Euclidean  geometry 
in  a  more  analytical  way,  investigating  their  internal  spatial 


fig- 4 

Tatlin's  model  for  the  Monument  to  the  Third  International  on 

exhibition  in  Petrograd,  November  ip20. 


structure  and  dynamic  potential. 

The  series  seems  to  have  been  begun  in  late  1920;  the 
square  construction  was  illustrated  as  Prostranstvennaia  veshch' 
(Spatial  Object)  and  dated  1920  in  Kino-fot  {Cinema-Photo)  2 
(1922),  while  the  hexagonal  work  (plate  no.  296)  was 
subsequently  reproduced  as  Prostranstvennaia  konstruktsiia 
(Spatial  Construction)  and  dated  1921  (Cinema-Photo  4  [1922]). 
This  dating  suggests  that  Rodchenko  explored  the  simpler 
geometrical  forms  (such  as  the  square)  before  moving  to  more 
complex  forms  such  as  the  hexagon  and  ellipse.  At  the 
exhibition,  these  hanging  works  were  suspended  from  a  series 
of  wires  attached  to  the  cornices  and  apparently  spanning  three 
corners  of  the  hall.  Only  the  triangle,  ellipse,  hexagon,  and  a 
portion  of  the  circle  are  visible  in  fig.  no.  2,  although  it  is 
possible  that  more  were  displayed  than  the  photograph 
suggests.  The  existence  of  at  least  five  of  these  constructions  is 
documented:  the  four  works  at  the  Obmokhu  exhibition  and 
the  square  construction  reproduced  in  Cinema-Photo.  Of  these, 
only  one  survives:  the  ellipse  (fig.  no.  5;  compare  plate  no.  294). 
All  of  the  works  share  a  common  method  of  construction. 
Concentric  geometrical  shapes  were  cut  from  a  single  flat  piece 
of  plywood.  These  essentially  two-dimensional  elements  were 
then  rotated  within  each  other  to  form  a  three-dimensional 
construction,  with  each  element  held  in  place  by  the  wire  and 
the  outer  element  acting  as  a  framework  for  the  whole.  After 
exhibition,  the  wires  could  be  removed  and  the  sculptures 
collapsed  back  into  a  series  of  flat  elements  for  storage.  Indeed, 
the  various  components  of  the  triangle,  square,  and  circle 
constructions  are  visible  in  the  background  of  the  well-known 
photograph  of  Rodchenko  in  his  specially  designed  work-suit.7' 
The  constructions  explored  the  growth  of  a  single  geometric 
form  from  the  plane  into  three  dimensions.  The  mathematical 
emphasis  clearly  reflects  the  Constructivists'  scientific 
orientation.  At  their  inaugural  meeting  in  March  1921  they 
had  decided  to  invite  a  "mathematics  expert"  as  well  as  an 
"engineer-technician"  to  work  in  the  group,  and  they  later 
produced  slogans  such  as  "Art  is  a  branch  of  mathematics,  like 
all  sciences."72  It  is  probably  no  coincidence  that  the  closest 
visual  parallels  to  Rodchenko 's  hanging  constructions  are 
found  in  modern  scientific  instruments  such  as  gyroscopes. 

The  effect  of  Rodchenko's  suspending  the  works  was  to 
further  deny  the  sensations  of  mass  and  materiality.  The 
dynamic  potential  was  also  intensified  by  the  free  movement  of 
the  construction  on  its  wire.  According  to  Vladimir  Stenberg, 
Rodchenko  shined  lights  onto  the  constructions  at  the 
exhibition  to  enhance  the  reflective  qualities  of  the  silver- 
painted  surfaces.71  This  suggests  that  Rodchenko  would  have 
used  metal  had  it  been  available,  and  it  recalls  Tatlin's  model 
for  the  Tower,  which  was  also  made  in  wood  and  painted  silver, 
although  intended  ultimately  to  be  constructed  in  iron.  The 
simple  mathematical  forms  and  the  sense  of  rotation  and 
movement  may  likewise  have  been  responses  to  the  rotating 
glazed  elements  within  the  Tower. 

For  the  younger  artists,  the  three-dimensional  work  of 
Tatlin  and  Rodchenko  demonstrated  how  a  work  of  art  might 
embody  rather  than  merely  illustrate  a  machine-age  sensibility. 
Previously,  contemporary  technological  themes  had,  indeed, 
comprised  the  subject  matter  of  paintings  by  the  Stenberg 
brothers  and  Medunetskii.  Some  of  these  have  come  to  light  in 
recent  years,  permitting  at  least  a  schematic  reconstruction  of 
these  artists'  early  development.  As  might  be  expected,  their 
work  at  this  time  was  fairly  eclectic..  Both  Vladimir  Stenberg 's 
Worker  by  the  Car  (ca.  1920?)74  and  Georgii  Stenberg 's  Crane 
(1920)  celebrate  an  industrial  imagery  appropriate  to  the  new 
proletarian  society,  and  their  treatment  suggests  a  degree  of 
fusion  between  men  and  machinery.  Georgii's  painting  is  less 
descriptive,  the  composition  flatter  and  more  dispersed,  and 

the  use  of  color  highly  abstract.  Such  simplifications  may  have 
been  a  consequence  of  their  concurrent  work  in  poster  design. 
The  linear  fluidity  of  Crane  is  developed  further  by  Vladimir  in 
his  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  4  (Color  Construction  No.  4,  1920,  plate 
no.  286),  where  shapes  and  lines  are  disposed  within  a  white 
ground,  clearly  indicating  a  new  awareness  of  more  abstract 
developments.  In  his  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  13  (Color 
Construction  No.  13,  1919-20,  plate  no.  284),  the  central  motif  of 
four  elongated  red  and  black  rectangles  on  a  white  ground  is 
almost  a  direct  quotation  from  Suprematism/5 

Among  the  paintings  in  the  Obmokhu  exhibition  were 
Vladimir's  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  10  (Color  Construction  No.  10, 
1920-21,  plate  no.  285), 76  and  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  12 
(Color  Construction  No.  12,  1920-21,  plate  no.  283),  which 
are  clearly  discernible  on  the  far  wall  in  one  view  of  the 
installation  (fig.  no.  1).  The  titles  recall  Rodchenko,  as  does  the 
uncompromising  austerity  of  the  approach  to  color  and  design 
in  these  new  works.  It  is  interesting  to  compare  Vladimir's 
Color  Construction  No.  10  with  his  demonstration  of 
"composition"  (plate  no.  244)  from  the  pair  of  drawings  he 
made  for  the  Inkhuk  debate.  The  painting  is  far  more 
reductive,  eliminating  tonal  modulation  and  artistic  "touch"  as 
well  as  rhythmical  correspondences  in  the  organization,  while 
the  elements  are  also  less  varied  and  autonomous.  By  taking 
certain  lines  right  out  to  the  frame  and  by  running  them 
parallel  to  the  edges  rather  than  at  a  tasteful  diagonal,  Stenberg 
ensured  greater  integration  in  the  painting  between  the 
internal  configuration  and  the  painted  object  as  a  whole; 
whereas  in  the  drawing,  the  design  is  a  conventional  "vignette" 
within  a  fictive  aesthetic  space.  The  painting  evokes  the 
impersonal  graphic  language  of  a  diagram  or  some  kind  of 
mathematical  illustration  and  as  such  it  probably  corresponds 
to  Stenberg 's  idea  of  how  a  painting  might  be  informed  with 
the  quality  of  "construction."  Significantly,  however,  the 
drawing  of  a  "construction"  (plate  no.  245)  produced  for  the 
discussions  is  a  study  for  a  three-dimensional  construction.77 
Konstruktsiia  prostranstvennogo  sooruzheniia  No.  IV  (zhelezo) 
(Construction  of  a  Spatial  Structure  No.  IV  (Iron),  1921,  plate 
no.  292  [Spatial  Construction  KPS  42  N  /V]),78  shown  at  the 
Obmokhu  exhibition,  is  evidently  an  elaboration  of  the  same 
conception;  the  curved  diagonal  is  identical,  while  the  vertical 
support  in  the  sketch  has  been  developed  into  a  more  complex 
diagonal  and  vertical  component  (each  comprising  three  bars) 
and  some  of  the  crossbars  have  been  omitted. 

The  artists'  exploration  of  new  materials  encompassed 
works  which  occupied  an  intermediate  position  between  pure 
painting  and  sculpture.  Thus  another  exhibit  was  Georgii 
Stenberg 's  relief,  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  iz  mater ialov  No.  7  (Color 
Construction  of  Materials  No.  7,  1920,  plate  no.  289),  just  visible 
behind  his  constructions  in  fig.  no.  2.  This  utilized  a  variety  of 
materials  including  sand,  paper,  wire,  circular  and  cylindrical 
metal  elements,  and  a  glass  tube  containing  ground  blue 
pigment — an  exploration  of  the  diversity  of  tone  and  texture 
recalling  Tatlin's  counter-reliefs  of  1914-16.  Vladimir  later 

They  weren't  simple  color  constructions  like  other  artists  made.  We  saw 
what  other  artists  were  doing  and  then  tried  to  do  it  differently. 
.  .  .  we  had  color  constructions  of  four  types:  one,  simple  color 
constructions;  two,  color  constructions  involving  texture;  three,  color 
constructions  that  were  like  bas-reliefs;  and  four,  color  constructions 
that  involved  perspective,  that  is  they  were  spatial.  These  were  all  lost 
in  a  fire. " 

A  very  different  approach  is  evident  in  Georgii  Stenberg 's 
freestanding  works  such  as  Konstruktsiia  prostranstvennogo 
sooruzheniia  No.  11  (Construction  of  a  Spatial  Structure  No.  II,  1921, 



fig-  5 

Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Oval  Hanging  Construction  Number  12,  ca.  Ip20. 

Plywood,  open  construction  partially  painted  with  aluminum  paint, 
and  wire,  61  x  83.  j  x  47  cm. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York.  Acquisition  made  possible 
through  the  extraordinary  efforts  of  George  and  Zinaida  Costa kis, 
and  through  the  Nate  B.  and  Frances  Spingold,  Matthew  H.  and 
Erna  F utter,  and  Enid  A.  Haupt  Funds. 


plate  no.  293  [Spatial  Construction  KPS  51 N  XI]),  which  is  built 
up  with  a  variety  of  small  I-and  T-beam  metal  elements 
enclosing  a  piece  of  glass.  This  work  was  probably  executed  in 
the  spring  of  1921  during  the  composition-versus-construction 
debates  at  Inkhuk  and  not  long  before  the  Obmokhu 
exhibition  opened.  A  drawing  entitled  Proekt  konstruktsii 
(Project  for  a  Construction,  signed  and  dated  1921)  depicts  a 
structure  which  is  very  close  to  this  particular  sculpture.80  It 
demonstrates  the  same  impulse  to  invest  art  with  the  materials 
and  the  impersonal  finish  of  machine  technology  that  is 
manifest  in  Vladimir  Stenberg's  Construction  of  a  Spatial 
Structure  No.  4,  which  is  captioned  Hidre'szlet-Konstrukcio  (Bridge 
Fragment  Construction)  and  dated  1921  in  Egyse'g."'  The  materials 
used,  more  uniform  beam  elements,  evoke  the  prefabricated 
components  of  engineering  construction  and  the  entire 
conception  here  alludes,  even  more  strongly,  to  a  specific 
functional  structure,  or  a  fragment  of  one,  such  as  a  bridge  or 
crane.  The  implied  monumentality  echoes  Tatlin's  Tower,  as,  of 
course,  does  the  skeletal  structure  of  standardized  components 
and  the  general  shift  toward  a  machine  aesthetic.  Vladimir 
Stenberg  later  stressed  that  his  constructions  at  this  time  were 
actually  conceived  as  explorations  that  would  eventually  lead  to 
projects  for  actual  buildings.82  Despite  this  assertion,  the 
construction  seems  to  have  no  direct  technological  application, 
but  rather  to  exploit  the  language  of  technology  to  create  an 
art  work.  It  could  even  be  argued,  as  Babichev  did  in  1922,  that 
such  works  were  "not  rooted  in  any  technical  work"  and  were 
"in  no  way  utilitarian"  but  represented  "the  confirmation  of  a 
new  mechanical  aestheticism."81 

Not  surprisingly,  in  view  of  their  friendship,  Medunetskii's 
artistic  formation  seems  to  closely  parallel  that  of  the  Stenberg 
brothers.  Celebration  (ca.  1919),  showing  workers  attending  a 
revolutionary  festival,  recalls  their  work  both  formally  and 
thematically.84  His  painted  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  (Color  Construction, 
1920,  plate  no.  278),  has  affinities  with  Georgii's  Crane  in  its 
fluid  handling  and  vivid  color,  and  although  Medunetskii's 
painting  is  ostensibly  more  abstract,  it  too  evokes  an  imagery 
of  metallic  machine  components.  In  Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  7 
(Color  Construction  No.  7,  1921,  plate  no.  280),  shown  at  the 
Obmokhu  exhibition,  the  linear  precision  is  analogous  to  that 
of  Vladimir's  Color  Construction  No.  10,  and  clearly  the  dominant 
influence  on  his  work  is  Rodchenko.  Likewise,  Medunetskii's 
Tsvetokonstruktsiia  No.  9  (Color  Construction  No.  p,  1920-21,  plate 
no.  279),8(  is  reminiscent  of  Rodchenko's  Black  on  Black 
paintings,  which  were  exhibited  at  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition, 
as  well  as  his  linear  "constructions"  of  1920.  At  the  same  time, 
it  evokes  an  imagery  of  light  projection. 

Medunetskii's  three-dimensional  works  (visible  in  fig. 
nos.  1—2)  seem  more  purely  abstract,  less  suggestive  of 
functional  forms  than  the  Stenbergs'  sculptures.  They  do, 
however,  use  industrially  produced  materials  and  elements. 
Thus  in  the  one  extant  work,  Konstruktsiia prostranstvennogo 
sooruzheniia  (Construction  oj  a  Spatial  Structure,  usually  known  as 
Spatial  Construction,  1920-21,  plate  no.  282),  the  metal  circle  has 
ridges  on  the  inside  and  was  evidently  some  type  of  coupling 
ring."''  Yet  the  relationships  between  the  components  are  far 
removed  from  those  of  any  engineering  structure.  The  shapes 
thread  through  each  other  with  the  minimum  of  contact, 
creating  a  very  open,  dematerialized  form.  Within  this 
unifying  configuration,  the  bent  iron  rod,  painted  red,  is 
visually  contrasted  with  the  yellow  sheen  of  the  brass  triangle, 
the  more  matte  quality  of  the  zinc  ring,  the  S-shaped  tin  strip, 
and  the  painted  marbling  on  the  hollow  cuboid,  metal  base. 
The  construction  is  clearly  an  attempt  to  develop  into  three 
dimensions  the  type  of  linear  spatial  structure  implied  fictively 
in  paintings  such  as  Color  Construction  No.  p.  This  was  equally 
true  of  the  linear  "drawing  in  space"  of  Medunetskii's  lost  iron 

and  tin  Spatial  Construction  (1921,  plate  no.  281. 1),  known  from  a 
photograph  and  also  visible,  alongside  a  series  of  comparable 
works,  in  one  view  of  the  Obmokhu  installation. 

It  is  unclear  whether  Ioganson  included  any  paintings,  but 
his  constructions,  too,  demonstrate  a  preoccupation  with  linear 
structure.  In  1929,  Laszlo  Moholy-Nagy  illustrated  one  of 
Ioganson's  works  from  the  exhibition  (fig.  no.  3)  as  a  Study  in 
Balance,  explaining  that  if  the  string  was  pulled  the 
composition  would  change  to  another  position  and 
configuration  while  maintaining  its  equilibrium. 8"  The 
similarity  between  the  manner  of  jointing  in  Study  in  Balance 
and  that  of  the  other  constructions  by  Ioganson  on  display 
(for  example,  fig.  no.  6)  suggests  that  all  the  works  could  be 
adjusted  and  possibly  collapsed  and  that  he  was  exploring  the 
movement  of  skeletal,  geometric  structures  in  a  more 
pragmatically  experimental  and  explicitly  technical  manner 
than  was  Rodchenko  in  his  hanging  constructions.  Ioganson's 
works  do  not  evoke  any  specific  structure,  yet  the  use  of 
standardized  elements  and  the  emphasis  on  the  transformation 
of  form  might  appear  to  have  more  direct  application  to 
utilitarian  structures  such  as  portable,  fold-up  kiosks  or 
collapsible  items  of  furniture.  These  "laboratory"  works  seem 
to  have  been  made  from  wood,  which  probably  reflects  the 
shortage  of  alternative  materials  at  this  time.  Ioganson's 
particularly  rigorous  antiaestheticism  expressed  in  these  works 
was  forcefully  articulated  the  following  year: 

Artists  who  used  to  paint  pictures  are  rejecting  the  picture  and  are 
going  over  to  the  construction  or  "into  industry,  "  as  the  customary 
expression  has  it.  But  this  approach  to  the  construction  employs  the 
devices,  the  method,  and  the  tools  of  "the  old  art"  without  a  practical 
objective  or  a  definite  goal,  such  as  is  required  for  mechanical 
construction. ss 

In  early  1922,  Medunetskii  and  the  Stenberg  brothers 
also  presented  a  paper  entitled  "Konstruktivizm" 
("Constructivism")  at  Inkhuk.  They  argued  that  the  new 
approach  was  a  response  to  the  enfeebled  state  of  contemporary 
"production  culture,"  conditioned  by  "aesthetics,"  an 
inappropriate  use  of  materials,  and  a  wholly  inadequate  design 
methodology.  In  contrast,  they  defined  the  essential  principles 
of  Constructivism  as  spatial  economy,  functionalism,  efficiency 
in  the  use  of  industrial  materials,  and  rhythm  resulting  from 
the  application  of  engineering  technology.  Finally,  according  to 
the  surviving  summary,  they  defined  their  own  achievements 
and  mission: 

The  first  experimental  works  and  their  significance  as  propaganda. 

The  abstract  solution  of  the  basic  problems  of  Constructivism. 

The  experimental  design  of  the  material  spatial  construction,  and 
its  interrelation  with  utility. 

Achievements  in  space,  form,  and  rhythm. 

The  communist  expression  of  material  spatial  constructions. 

Russian  industry  under  the  banner  of  Constructivism  and  its 
significance  in  the  world  market.  * 

This  makes  it  clear  that,  from  the  start,  the  Constructivists 
were  concerned  not  merely  to  promote  a  new  aesthetic  but  to 
demonstrate  their  potential  capabilities  as  designers  of  real 
objects  and  structures.  "The  first  experimental  works  and  their 
significance  as  propaganda"  is  presumably  a  reference  to  the 
1921  Obmokhu  exhibition,  where  they  had  sought  to  display 
their  understanding  of  the  essential  principles  of  engineering 
construction,  and  their  formal  inventiveness  within  that 
framework,  for  the  benefit  of  any  manufacturers, 
administrators,  or  politicians  who  might  care  to  observe  and  to 
give  the  artists  a  concrete  role  in  building  the  new  socialist 


environment.  Theirs  was  an  immensely  ambitious  and 
idealistic  outlook,  perhaps  conceivable  only  at  a  time  when,  in 
practice,  almost  nothing  was  being  made  or  built  in  Russia. 
However,  1921,  which  witnessed  the  birth  of  the  Constructivist 
movement  in  art,  also  saw  the  implementation  of  the  New 
Economic  Policy  and  the  first  stirrings  of  a  revival  of  industrial 
production.  By  the  following  year  the  Constructivist  ethos  was 
gaining  increased  currency  among  the  avant-garde,  and  many 
Russian  artists  had,  in  a  more  wholesale  fashion,  renounced  the 
making  of  paintings  and  sculptures  in  favor  of  immersing 
themselves  in  the  design  of  buildings  and  propaganda  stands, 
furniture  and  textiles,  posters,  advertisements,  and  books.  The 
Obmokhu  exhibition  in  the  spring  of  1921  marked  a  key 
moment  in  the  transition  toward  an  authentically 
Constructivist  practice. 

fig.  6 

Karl  loganson 

Spatial  Construction,  ca. 

Wood  and  metal  wire. 

Whereabouts  unknown. 




I  should  like  to  express  my  profound  gratitude  to  my  husband 
Martin  Hammer  for  his  invaluable  contribution  to  both  the 
content  and  form  of  this  essay. 

The  epigraphs  are  from  Aleksei  Gan,  Konstruktivizm  (Tver1: 
Tverskoe  izdatel'stvo,  1922),  p.  19,  as  translated  in  John  E. 
Bowlt,  ed.,  Russian  Art  of  the  Avant-Garde:  Theory  and  Criticism, 
1902-1954  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson,  1988),  p.  222,  and 
Karl  Ioganson,  "From  Construction  to  Technology  and 
Invention,"  trans.  James  West,  in  Art  Into  Life:  Russian 
Constructivism,  1914-1952,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by 
the  Henry  Art  Gallery,  University  of  Washington,  Seattle,  the 
Walker  Art  Center,  Minneapolis,  and  the  State  Tret'yakov 
Gallery,  Moscow  (New  York:  Rizzoli,  1990),  p.  70. 

1.  See  "Programma  uchebnoi  podgruppy  konstruktivistov 
INKhUKa,"  1921,  private  archive,  Moscow,  and  "Report 
No.  1.  The  Assembly  for  the  Organisation  of  the  Working 
Group  of  Constructivists  of  Inkhuk"  held  on  March  18,  1921, 
in  S.  O.  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko:  The  Complete  Work, 
ed.  Vieri  Quilici,  trans.  Huw  Evans  (London:  Thames  and 
Hudson,  1986),  pp.  289-90. 

For  details  concerning  Inkhuk,  see  Christina  Lodder, 
Russian  Constructivism  (New  Haven  and  London:  Yale 
University  Press,  1983),  pp.  78ff.  and  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  pp.  55ff. 

The  name  of  the  group  has  been  given  variously  as  the 
Working  Group  of  Constructivists  and  the  First  Working 
Group  of  Constructivists.  Archival  material  usually  omits 
"First,"  but  the  group's  first  public  pronouncement,  published 
in  August  1922  in  the  Moscow  journal  Ermitazh  (Hermitage), 
used  both  names.  See  "Front  khudozhestvennogo  truda. 
Materialy  k  Vserossiiskoi  konferentsii  levykh  v  iskusstve. 
Konstruktivisty.  Pervaia  programma  rabochei  gruppy 
konstruktivistov,"  Ermitazh  13  (1922),  pp.  3-4.  The 
introduction  in  Ermitazh  gave  the  group  its  full  title,  declaring 
that:  "On  December  13,  1920,  the  First  Working  Group  of 
Constructivists  was  formed"  (ibid.,  p.  3).  It  cited  Rodchenko, 
Stepanova,  and  Gan  as  the  founders  and  stated:  "Directing 
their  attention  to  the  future  culture  of  Communism  and 
proceeding  from  present  specific  conditions,  they  worked  out  a 
program  and  production  plan  and  started  to  enlist 
collaborators."  These  remarks  were  followed  by  "The  First 
Program  of  the  Working  Group  of  Constructivists."  The 
presence  of  both  names  in  this  publication  suggests  that  they 
were  used  concurrently  and  interchangeably. 

There  is  no  archival  evidence  to  support  the  assertion  made 
in  the  Ermitazh  announcement  that  the  group  was  founded  in 
December  1920.  Gan  repeated  this  elsewhere,  notably  in 
"Chto  takoe  konstruktivizm?"  Sovremennaia  arkhitektura  3 
(1928),  p.  79,  and  in  Konstruktivizm,  p.  3,  where  he  also  dates 
the  group  to  1920.  Gan  joined  Inkhuk  in  1920  (see  Khan- 
Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  p.  57),  and  although  his  participation 
in  the  debates  is  not  documented  fully,  it  is  possible  that  the 
crystallization  of  the  group's  ideas  and  membership  may  have 
begun  informally  toward  the  end  of  1920.  The  archives, 
however,  suggest  that  the  group's  inaugural  meeting  was  held 
on  March  18,  1921  (see  "Report  No.  1,"  in  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  p.  289).  Although  Gan  was  not  present,  he  was 
chosen  to  be  a  member  of  the  organizing  group  and  it  was 
decided  to  invite  him  to  work  in  the  group  (ibid.,  items  2 
and  7).  Ten  days  later,  he  presented  his  report  on  the  program 
and  work  plan  ("Report  No.  2.  Meeting  of  the  Plenum  of  the 
Working  Group  of  Constructivists  of  Inkhuk,"  ibid.,  p.  290).  It 
is  clear  from  the  transcription  of  the  ensuing  discussion  that 
Gan  was  responsible  for  the  terms  tektonika,  faktura,  and 

"construction,"  as  well  as  for  the  attempt  to  create  a  coherent 
theory  from  the  artists'  rather  vague  ideas  and  aspirations 
(ibid.,  pp.  92-93  n.  14).  It  is  also  evident  that  although  his 
program  was  ultimately  accepted  on  April  1,  1921,  there  was  a 
great  deal  of  divergence  among  the  members  over  precise 
meanings  and  specific  details  (ibid.,  p.  92). 

2.  All  are  listed  in  "Report  No.  2,"  in  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  p.  290. 

3.  See  "Protokol  zasedaniia  INKhUKa,"  January  1,  1921  and 
January  21,  1921,  private  archive,  Moscow. 

4.  "Programma  uchebnoi  podgruppy"  and  Gan's  draft  program 
of  the  group  that  was  approved  on  April  1,  1921  (reprinted  as 
"Programme  of  the  Working  Group  of  Constructivists  of 
Inkhuk,"  in  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  p.  290).  The  draft 
program,  with  few  alterations,  was  published  in  August  1922 
in  Ermitazh  under  "Front  khudozhestvennogo  truda."  These 
ideas  were  further  elaborated  in  Gan's  treatise  Konstruktivizm, 
which  had  appeared  by  the  summer  of  1922,  when  it  was 
reviewed.  See  V.  Zhemchuzhnyi,  "Aleksei  Gan 
'Konstruktivizm,'"  Ermitazh  9  (1922),  p.  8. 

5.  See  "Programme  of  the  Working  Group  of  Constructivists  of 
Inkhuk,"  in  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  p.  290,  and  the 
discussion  of  the  March  28,  1921  meeting,  ibid.,  p.  92  n.  14. 

6.  Date  of  opening  from  invitation  card  reproduced  in  Szymon 
Bojko,  "Rodchenko's  Early  Spatial  Constructions,"  in  Von  der 
Fldche  zutn  Raum/From  Surface  to  Space:  Russia,  1916-24, 
catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the  Galerie  Gmurzynska, 
Cologne  (Cologne:  Galerie  Gmurzynska,  1974),  p.  18. 

The  invitation  card  referred  to  the  show  as  the  group's 
Second  Spring  Exhibition.  According  to  V.  M.  Lobanov,  the 
earliest  chronicler  of  Obmokhu  (writing  in  1930),  the  1921 
show  was  the  group's  third  exhibition.  He  listed  four 
exhibitions  organized  by  Obmokhu  between  its  founding  in 
1919  and  its  dissolution  in  1923.  According  to  him,  these  shows 
took  place  in  1919,  1920,  1921,  and  1922,  the  last  in  conjunction 
with  the  Fourth  Congress  of  the  Comintern  in  the  summer  of 
that  year.  (See  V.  M.  Lobanov,  Khudozhestvennye  gruppirovki  za 
poslednie  2$  let  {Moscow:  Obshchestvo  AKhR,  1930],  pp.  104-5). 
Lobanov 's  account  has  formed  the  basis  for  work  by  other 
scholars  (see  Vystavki  sovetskogo  izobrazitel'nogo  iskusstva. 
Spravochnik  [Moscow:  Sovetskii  khudozhnik,  1965],  vol.  1, 
pp.  37,  59,  74).  Lobanov 's  labeling  of  the  1921  exhibition  as  the 
group's  third  show  was  also  confirmed  by  Vladimir  Stenberg 
(conversation  with  author,  April  1974). 

However,  Aleksandra  Shatskikh  argues,  on  the  basis  of  the 
correspondence  between  Georgii  Echeistov  and  Georgii 
Shchetinin,  that  the  group  acquired  its  name  only  after 
September  1919,  being  initially  called  Obmolkhud,  and  that 
its  first  exhibition  was  held  in  May  1920,  not  in  1919  (see 
Aleksandra  Shatskikh,  "A  Brief  History  of  Obmokhu,"  in 
this  volume).  A  contemporary  review  of  the  May  1920 
exhibition,  which  explains  the  group's  acronym,  confirms  this 
(A.  A.  Sidorov,  "Khudozhestvennye  vystavki,"  Tvorchestvo  2—4 
[1920],  p.  34).  Although  Lobanov  gave  the  wrong  year,  the 
details  of  the  show,  as  listed  on  the  poster  (reproduced  by 
Shatskikh),  correspond  with  Lobanov 's  account  of  the  first 
exhibition,  i.e.,  that  it  was  held  in  the  spring  (opening  on  May 
2nd)  at  the  First  State  Free  Art  Workshops  on  Rozhdestvenka, 
and  that  Anatolii  Lunacharskii  and  Lev  Kamenev  spoke  at  the 
opening.  However,  Lobanov 's  assertion  that  the  first  exhibition 
consisted  entirely  of  agitational  work  does  not  accord  with 
Sidorov's  review,  which  described  paintings  and  even  a 
sculpture.  Lobanov  stated  that  the  first  exhibition  (exclusively 
agitational  work)  was  held  on  Rozhdestvenka,  while  the  second 
(posters  plus  more  formal  investigations)  was  held  in  the 


group's  studio  in  the  former  Faberge  shop  on  the  corner  of 
Neglinnaia  Street  and  Kuznetskii  most.  Although  this  indeed 
was  the  location  of  their  studio,  his  account  is  somewhat 
confused.  Certainly  there  seems  to  be  no  reason  for  Lobanov  to 
have  exaggerated  Obmokhu's  importance  by  adding  another 
exhibition;  although  Obmokhu  was  an  agitational  and 
collective  organization,  its  interest  in  formal  experimentation 
was  far  removed  from  the  Realist  cause  Lobanov  espoused.  In 
view  of  this — and  given  Vladimir  Stenberg's  assertions — it  is 
possible  that  there  were  four  shows  in  all  and  that  there  was 
another  exhibition  devoted  entirely  to  agitational  work.  It  is 
possible,  moreover,  that  such  an  exhibition  took  place  prior  to 
the  May  1920  exhibition,  and  this  would  explain  why  the 
opening  of  the  May  1920  show — a  show,  after  all,  by  a  new 
group  of  young  artists — had  such  a  lineup  of  eminent  speakers 
(Lunacharskii,  Kamenev,  Ol'ga  Kameneva,  David  Shterenberg, 
Osip  Brik,  and  Georgii  Iakulov).  Likewise,  it  is  possible  that 
there  was  another  exhibition,  perhaps  more  informal,  in 
Obmokhu's  studio  at  some  time  after  the  May  1920  show  and 
before  the  end  of  the  year.  As  the  first  exhibition  opened  in  the 
spring,  the  1921  show  could  still  have  been  the  group's  Second 
Spring  Exhibition  as  well  as  its  third  show  overall.  Certainly  the 
inclusion  of  "spring"  in  the  title  is  puzzling,  particularly  since 
it  is  more  reminiscent  of  the  salons  of  czarist  Russia  than  of  the 
postrevolutionary  avant-garde. 

7.  The  contributors  are  listed  on  the  invitation  card, 
reproduced  in  Bojko,  "Rodchenko's  Early  Spatial 
Constructions,"  p.  18. 

8.  Shatskikh,  "Brief  History  of  Obmokhu."  It  was  registered 
within  the  Subsection  for  Artistic  Work  of  Izo  Narkompros 
before  May  1920.  "Iz  deiatel'nosti  IZO,"  IZO.  Vestnik  Otdela 
izobrazitel'nykh  iskusstv  N.K.P.  1  (March  10,  1921),  p.  4. 

9.  See  Alma  Law,  "A  Conversation  with  Vladimir  Stenberg," 
Art  Journal,  Fall  1981,  p.  223  and  E.  A.  Speranskaia,  ed., 
Agitatsionno-massovoe  iskusstvo  pervykh  let  Oktiabria.  Material}1 

i  issledovaniia  (Moscow:  Iskusstvo,  1971),  p.  70. 

10.  Speranskaia,  Agitatsionno-massovoe  iskusstvo,  pp.  92,  125 
n.  167. 

11.  Lobanov,  Khudozhestvennye  gruppirovki,  pp.  104-5.  If  also 
contained  "leiye  iskaniia"  (left-wing  or  avant-garde 
explorations)  which  are  not  described.  Clearly,  for  Lobanov  the 
importance  of  Obmokhu  lay  in  the  fact  that  the  "Productionist 
aspirations  of  the  participants  dominated  over  easel  painting." 
Ibid.,  p.  106. 

12.  Sidorov,  "Khudozhestvennye  vystavki."  He  also  suggests 
that  this  statue  is  well  riveted. 

13.  Vladimir  Stenberg,  conversation  with  author,  November 
1974.  See  note  6  above. 

14.  Law,  "Conversation  with  Vladimir  Stenberg,"  p.  224. 
The  invitation  gave  the  address  as  11  Bol'shaia  Dmitrovka 
(reproduced  in  Bojko,  "Rodchenko's  Early  Spatial 
Constructions,"  p.  18). 

15.  See  Ulen,  "Die  Ausstellungen  in  Russland," 
Vesbch'/Gegenstand/Objet  1-2  (1922),  p.  19,  reprinted  in  I.  Matsa, 
ed.,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za  15  let.  Materia ly  i  dokumentatsiia 
(Moscow  and  Leningrad:  Ogiz-Izogiz,  1933),  p.  138,  where  it  is 
dated  1920. 

16.  See  Egyseg  2  (1922),  p.  9. 

17.  Ibid.,  p.  7.  The  issue  also  contained  photographs  of  a  Gabo 
relief  (p.  8)  and  an  Unovis  composition  exhibited  in  Moscow  in 
1921  (p.  10). 

18.  Ibid.,  pp.  5-6. 

19.  Ibid.,  p.  8. 

20.  Ulen,  "Die  Ausstellungen  in  Russland,"  p.  19. 

21.  Quoted  in  Richard  Stites,  Revolutionary  Dreams:  Utopian 
Vision  and  Experimental  Life  in  the  Russian  Revolution  (New  York 
and  Oxford:  Oxford  University  Press,  1989),  p.  147. 

22.  V  I.  Lenin,  "Iz  doklada  Vserossiiskogo  tsentral'nogo 
ispolnitel'nogo  komiteta  i  Soveta  narodnykh  komissarov  o 
vneshnei  i  vnutrennei  politike  22  dekabria,"  in  his  Polnoe 
sobranie  sochinenii  (1919),  reprinted  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo 
za  is  let,  pp.  63-64. 

23.  See  Stites,  Revolutionary  Dreams,  pp.  145—64.  For 
contemporary  enthusiasm  about  Ford's  ideas,  see 

I.  M.  Burdianskii,  Nauchnaia  organizatsiia  truda  (Leningrad: 
Priboi,  1925),  pp.  23-25. 

24.  See  L.  Pamilla  and  V  Chukovich,  NOT — velenie  vremeni 
(Minsk:  Belarus,  1973). 

25.  See  E.  H.  Carr,  Socialism  in  One  Country,  Ip24~ip26  (London: 
Penguin,  1970),  pp.  409-11. 

26.  P.  M.  Kerzhentsev,  Printsipy  organizatsii.  Izbrannye 
proizvedeniia  (Moscow:  Ekonomika,  1968),  p.  275,  quoted  in 
Stites,  Revolutionary  Dreams,  p.  156. 

27.  M.  L-in,  "Miting  ob  iskusstve,"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  1 
(December  7,  1918),  pp.  3-4,  reprinted  as  "Miting  ob  iskusstve 
(24  XI  1918  g.  v  Petrograde),"  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za 
iSlet,  pp.  173-76. 

28.  Nikolai  Punin,  quoted  in  "Miting  ob  iskusstve,"  in  Matsa, 
Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za  islet,  pp.  175—76. 

29.  "Primechanie  redaktsii,"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  8  (January  26, 
1919),  p.  2. 

30.  Osip  Brik  "Drenazh  iskusstvu,"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  1 
(December  7,  1918),  p.  1. 

31.  David  Shterenberg,  "Pora  poniat',"  Iskusstvo  v  proizvodstve 
(Moscow:  IZO  Narkompros,  1921),  p.  5. 

32.  "Rech'  Narodnogo  kommissara  po  prosveshcheniiu 

A.  V  Lunarcharskogo,"  in  Pervaia  vserossiiskaia  konferentsiia  po 
khudozhestvennoi  promysblennosti.  Avgust  ipip  (Moscow:  Podotdel 
khudozhestvennoi  promyshlennosti  Otdela  izobrazitel'nykh 
iskusstv  NKP,  1920),  pp.  63-64. 

33.  See  N.  Kol'tsova,  "Programma-deklaratsiia 
khudozhestvenno-proizvodstvennoi  komissi,"  Tekbnicheskaia 
estetika  10  (1967),  pp.  14-15. 

34.  Nikolai  Punin,  "O  novykh  gruppirovkakh,"  Iskusstvo 
kommuny  10  (February  9,  1919),  as  translated  in  Larissa  Zhadova, 
Malevich:  Suprematism  and  Revolution  in  Russian  Art  ipio-ipjO. 
trans.  Alexander  Lieven  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson,  1982), 
p.  322. 

35.  Anatolii  Strigalev,  "The  Art  of  the  Constructivists:  From 
Exhibition  to  Exhibition,  1914— 1932,"  trans.  James  West,  in 
Art  Into  Life.  p.  29. 

36.  K.  Malevich,  "Sorok  piat'.  Vvedenie  v  teoriiu  o 
pribavochnom  elemente  v  zhivopise,"  1925,  private  archive, 
Moscow,  p.  81,  quoted  in  Zhadova,  Malevich.  pp.  81,  130  n.  32. 

37.  See  Zhadova,  Malevich,  pp.  96ff. 

38.  El  Lissitzky  and  Hans  Arp,  Die  Kunstismen,  IP14-1924 
(Zurich-Munich-Leipzig:  Eugen  Rentsch  Verlag,  1925),  p.  xi. 
Architectural  titles  for  Lissitzky's  prouns  abound,  e.g.,  Proun 


iE.  Gorod.  Eskiz  (Sketch  for  Proun  iE:  Town,  1919—20,  plate  no. 
206).  See  Peter  Nisbet,  "An  Introduction  to  El  Lissitzky,"  in 
El  Lissitzky,  1890-1941,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by 
the  Busch-Reisinger  Museum,  the  Sprengel  Museum  Hanover, 
and  the  Staatliche  Galerie  Moritzburg  Halle  (Cambridge: 
Harvard  University  Art  Museums,  1987),  pp.  20-21. 

39.  El  Lissitzky,  "New  Russian  Art:  A  Lecture,"  in  Sophie 
Lissitzky-Kiippers,  El  Lissitzky:  Life,  Letters,  Texts,  trans.  Helene 
Aldwinckle  and  Mary  Whittall  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson, 
1968),  p.  340. 

40.  Chashnik's  project  was  published  in  UNOVIS.  Listok  1 
(November  20,  1920). 

41.  Zhadova,  Malevicb,  pp.  Syff. 

42.  II.  Chashnik,  "Arkhitekturno-tekhnicheskii  fakul'tet," 
UNOVIS  2  (January  1921),  pp.  12-15. 

43.  See  Izvestiia  VTsIK,  December  25,  1920. 

44.  Quoted  in  German  Karginov,  Rodchenko,  trans.  Elisabeth 
Hoch  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson,  1979),  p.  60. 

45.  Of  course,  artists  and  writers  such  as  David  Burliuk  and 
Vladimir  Markov  had  begun  the  process  of  establishing  a  more 
scientific  basis  for  artistic  analysis  before  the  Revolution. 
Indeed,  it  was  Burliuk  who  had  introduced  the  French  term  for 
the  texture  of  the  painted  surface,  facture,  into  Russian  as 
faktura  in  1912.  (See  his  articles  "Kubizm"  and  "Faktura"  in 
Poshchecbina  obshchestvennomu  vkusu,  December  1912  or  January 
1913,  pp.  95-101  and  102—10;  the  former  is  translated  in  Bowlt, 
Russian  Art  of  the  Avant-Garde,  pp.  70-77).  By  1914  Markov  had 
explored  in  minute  detail  the  practical  and  philosophical 
ramifications  of  the  term  faktura  in  relation  to  various  arts  and 
crafts  (including  sculpture,  architecture,  and  icon  painting), 
nature,  and  the  machine.  (See  Vladimir  Markov,  Printsipy 
tvorcbestva  v plasticbeskikh  iskusstvakh.  Faktura  [St.  Petersburg: 
Souiz  molodezhi,  1914}).  The  importance  of  this  process  of 
analysis  was  endorsed  by  Izo  Narkompros  in  February  1919  in 
its  statement  concerning  "artistic  culture,"  which  emphasized 
the  need  to  create  precise  definitions  of  "the  elements  of  artistic 
activity"  and  to  establish  "objective  criteria  of  artistic  value." 
See  "Polozhenie  Otdela  izobrazitel'nykh  iskusstv  i 
khudozhestvennoi  promyshlennosti  NKP  po  voprosu  'o 
khudozhestvennoi  kul'tury,'"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  11  (February  16, 
1919),  reprinted  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za  islet,  pp.  63-64. 

46.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "The  Line,"  trans.  James  West,  in  Art 
Into  Life,  p.  73. 

47.  See  V  I.  Dal1,  Tolkovyi  slovar' zhivogo  velikorusskogo  iazyka, 
vol.  2  (Moscow  and  St.  Petersburg,  1881),  p.  152,  where 
konstruktsiia  is  applied  to  buildings  as  well  as  to  the  structure 
of  language;  and  the  more  detailed  later  definition  in 

D.  N.  Ushakov,  Tolkovyi  slovar ' russkogo  iazyka,  vol.  1  (Moscow: 
Sovetskaia  entsiklopediia,  1935),  p.  1443. 

48.  See  Vladimir  Markov,  "Printsipy  novogo  iskusstva,"  Soiuz 
molodezhi  1  (April  1912),  pp.  5-14,  and  Soiuz  molodezhi  2  (June 
1912),  pp.  5-18,  translated  in  Bowlt,  Russian  Art  of  the  Avant- 
Garde,  pp.  25-38. 

49.  Ivan  Puni,  "Tvorchestvo  zhizni,"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  5 
(January  5,  1919),  p.  1. 

50.  See  V  Dmitriev,  "Pervyi  itog,"  Iskusstvo  kommuny  15  (March 
16,  1919),  p.  3. 

51.  See  Anatolii  Strigalev,  "From  Painting  to  the  Construction 
of  Matter,"  in  Zhadova,  Tatlin,  p.  24. 

52.  Vasily  Kandinsky,  "Program  for  the  Institute  of  Artistic 
Culture,"  in  Kenneth  Lindsay  and  Peter  Vergo,  eds.,  Kandinsky: 
Complete  Writings  on  Art  (London:  Faber  and  Faber,  1982), 

p.  471. 

53.  See  D.  N.  Ushakov,  Tolkovyi  slovar'  russkogo  iazyka,  vol.  3 
(Moscow:  Sovetskaia  entsiklopediia,  1939),  p.  648. 

54.  See  "Liubov1  Popova,"  in  Desiataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka. 
Bespredmetnoe  tvorchestvo  i  suprematizm  (Moscow:  Otdel  IZO 
Narkomprosa,  1919),  reprinted  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za 
IS  let,  p.  112.  In  the  same  statement,  she  also  used  the  term 
akonstruktivnost'  (noncomtruct'ivenes,?,)  to  denote  the  absence  of 
construction  and  hence  the  antithesis  of  arkhitektonika 
(architectonics).  The  date  of  the  opening  of  this  show  is  given 
in  Strigalev,  "Art  of  the  Constructivists,"  p.  28.  Zhivopisnoe 
postroenie  (painterly  structure)  or  zhivopisnoi  stroi  (painterly 
construct)  were  also  used  by  other  artists  to  denote  pictorial 
structure.  See  statements  such  as  those  by  Aleksandr 
Shevchenko  and  Aleksei  Grishchenko  in  the  catalogue  of  the 
Dvenadtsataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka.  Tsvetodinamos  i 
tektonicheskii primitivizm  (Moscow:  Otdel  IZO  Narkomprosa, 
1919),  reprinted  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za  is  let,  pp.  117-20. 
Occasionally  struktura  (structure)  was  also  used. 

55.  See  Desiataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka,  in  Matsa,  Sovetskoe 
iskusstvo  za  islet,  p.  113. 

56.  Naum  Gabo  and  Noton  Pevzner  [Antoine  Pevsner], 
"Realisticheskii  manifest,"  August  1920,  original  and 
translation  reprinted  in  Gabo:  Constructions,  Sculpture,  Paintings, 
Drawings,  Engravings  (London:  Lund  Humphries,  1957),  p.  152. 

57.  XIX  vystavka  VTsVB  (Moscow:  Otdel  IZO  Narkomprosa, 
1920),  nos.  93-107  and  117.  According  to  Rodchenko,  this 
exhibition  opened  on  October  2nd  (see  his  recollections  quoted 
in  Karginov,  Rodchenko,  p.  86). 

58.  XIX  vystavka  VTsVB,  pp.  8-9. 

59.  XIX  vystavka  VTsVB,  nos.  125-34. 

60.  Strigalev,  "Art  of  the  Constructivists,"  p.  31. 

61.  Nikolai  Khardzhiev,  K  istorii  russkogo  avangarda  (Stockholm: 
Hylaea  Prints,  1976),  p.  124  n.  2. 

Khan-Magomedov  stated  that  Rodchenko  exhibited  the 
kiosk  and  Sovdep  (Soviet  of  Deputies  building)  designs  along 
with  twenty  other  sketches  at  this  show  (Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  p.  54). 

62.  For  more  details  on  the  debates,  see  Khan-Magomedov, 
Rodchenko,  pp.  83—89  and  Lodder,  Russian  Constructivism, 
pp.  83-89. 

63.  See  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  pp.  83-89  and  Lodder, 
Russian  Constructivism,  pp.  83—89. 

64.  See  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko,  p.  84  and  the 
transcription  of  the  discussion  of  Rodchenko 's  Dva  kruga 
(Two  Circles,  ca.  1920),  ibid.,  pp.  87-88  n.  5. 

65.  Rodchenko,  "Line,"  p.  73. 

66.  Nikolai  Khardzhiev,  "Maiakoyskii  i  Tatlin.  K  90-letiiu  so 
dnia  rozhdeniia  khudozhnika,"  reprinted  in  Neue  russische 
Literatur.  Almanack  (Salzburg,  1978),  p.  90. 

67.  See  V  Tatlin,  T  Shapiro,  I.  Meerzon,  and  P.  Vinogradov, 
"Nasha  predstoiashchaia  rabota,"  VIII  s"ezd sovetov.  Ezhednevnyi 
biulleten'  s"ezda  13  (January  1,  1921),  p.  II.  Translation  adapted 
from  "The  Work  Ahead  of  Us,"  in  Vladimir  Tatlin  (Stockholm: 
Moderna  Museet,  1968),  p.  51. 


68.  See  Tatlin  et  al.,  "Nasha  predstoiashchaia  rabota,"  p.  n,  and 
Lissitzky,  "New  Russian  Art,"  p.  337. 

69.  See  Christina  Lodder,  "Tallin's  Monument  to  the 

Third  International  as  a  Symbol  of  Revolution,"  in  Gabriel  P. 
Weisberg  and  Laurinda  S.  Dixon,  eds.,  The  Documented  Image: 
Visions  in  Art  History  (Syracuse:  Syracuse  University  Press, 
1987),  pp.  275-88. 

70.  These  works  were  dated  1918  when  they  were  reproduced  in 
1922  in  Kino-fot  5  (1922).  They  were,  however,  exhibited  at  the 
Tenth  State  Exhibition  in  1919  under  the  title  of  White  Non- 
Objective  Sculptures. 

71.  See  Lodder,  Russian  Constructivism,  plate  1.33. 

72.  See  "Report  No.  1,"  March  18,  1921,  and  the  list  of  slogans 
in  "Programme  of  the  Working  Group  of  Constructivists  of 
Inkhuk,"  in  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko.  pp.  289,  291. 

73.  Vladimir  Stenberg,  conversation  with  author,  November 

74.  Worker  by  the  Car,  oil  on  canvas,  71  x  89  cm,  State 
Architecture  and  Art  Museum,  Rostov-Iaroslavskii,  reproduced 
in  Avantgarde.  ipio-ip^o:  Russian  and  Soviet  Art  (Turku:  Turku 
Art  Museum,  1989),  p.  54,  details  on  p.  63. 

75.  The  title  is  inscribed  on  the  verso  with  the  date  1918 
(Giovanni  Carandente,  ed.,  Arte  russa  e  sovietica.  1870-1930 
[Milan:  Fabbri,  1989},  p.  387).  The  date  is  more  likely  to  be 
ca.  1920;  the  inscription  is  of  questionable  value  since  it  could 
have  been  made  any  time  before  the  work  was  acquired  by  the 
Tret'iakov  in  1984. 

j6.  Andrei  Nakov,  however,  identifies  Color  Construction  No.  10 
as  a  Proekt  prostranstvenno-konstruktivnogo  sooruzheniia  (Project  for 
a  Spatial-Constructive  Structure).  See  A.  B.  Nakov,  2  Stenberg  2. 
catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the  Annely  Juda  Gallery, 
London  (London:  Annely  Juda  Gallery,  1975),  p.  42.  He  asserts 
that  works  with  such  titles  were  "two-dimensional  projects  for 
three-dimensional  works"  (ibid.,  p.  71).  Such  a  description 
could  be  applied  to  Color  Construction  No.  10.  which  has  a 
stronger  sculptural  emphasis  than  the  other  paintings  given 
this  title  (e.g.,  Color  Construction  No.  12).  There  is  no  Project  for  a 
Spatial-Constructive  Structure  No.  10  listed  in  the  January  1922 
exhibition  catalogue,  the  highest  number  in  that  series  of 
works  shown  being  no.  6  (see  Konstruktivisty.  K.  K.  Medunetskii, 
V.  A.  Stenberg.  G.  A.  Stenberg  [Moscow:  Kafe  poetov,  1922], 
no.  41).  Nevertheless,  it  is  possible  that  Color  Construction  No.  10 
has  been  mistitled  and  that  Nakov  s  title  is  correct. 

77.  The  drawing  was  probably  executed  in  late  1920  or  early 
1921,  while  its  Composition  counterpart  is  dated  1920.  Other 
drawings  in  the  Inkhuk  portfolio  of  the  Costakis  Collection  are 
dated  1920  or  April  1921,  when  the  debate  was  concluded.  For 
instance,  Ioganson's  pair  of  Composition  and  Construction 
drawings  are  dated  April  7,  1921,  Ladovskii's  April  15,  1921, 
while  Medunetskii's  Construction  is  dated  1920.  See  Angelica 
Zander  Rudenstine,  ed.,  Russian  Avant-Garde  Art:  The  George 
Costakis  Collection  (New  York:  Abrams,  1981),  pp.  110-27. 

78.  Title  taken  from  Konstruktivisty.  no.  42.  It  was  identified  by 
the  artist  in  a  conversation  with  the  author,  April  1974. 

79.  Law,  "Conversation  with  Vladimir  Stenberg,"  p.  225. 

80.  State  Tret'iakov  Gallery,  Moscow,  Soviet  Graphics 
Inventory  no.  13045,  reproduced  in  Art  Into  Life.  p.  95. 

81.  See  Egyseg  2  (1922),  p.  7.  The  title  for  these  works  employed 
by  the  Stenbergs  in  January  1922  in  their  exhibition  catalogue 
Konstruktivisty  was  Konstruktsiia  prostranstvennogo  sooruzheniia. 
Andrei  Nakov  identified  this  particular  work  as  Konstruktsiia 

prostranstvennogo  sooruzheniia  IV.  catalogue  no.  4  (see  Nakov,  2 
Stenberg  2.  p.  72). 

82.  Vladimir  Stenberg,  conversation  with  author,  November 

83.  Aleksei  Babichev,  untitled  notes,  private  archive,  Moscow. 
The  full  quotation  is  cited  in  Lodder,  Russian  Constructivism. 
p.  97.  Similar  observations  were  made  by  Lissitzky  in  "New 
Russian  Art,"  p.  337. 

84.  Konstantin  Medunetskii,  Celebration,  undated,  ca.  1919, 
oil  on  canvas,  measurements  unknown,  Museum  of  Fine  Arts, 
Syktyvkar.  Reproduced  in  Avantgarde.  ipio-ip$o,  p.  45, 
details  on  p.  62. 

85.  The  signature  and  date  of  1921  on  Color  Construction  No.  7 
suggest  that  Color  Construction  No.  p  was  also  produced  in  1921, 
although  it  is  dated  1920  in  Art  Into  Life.  p.  46. 

86.  It  was  illustrated  in  the  catalogue  of  the  Erste  russische 
Kunstausstellung  (First  Russian  Art  Exhibition)  under  the  title 
Raumkonstruktion  (Spatial  Construction).  See  Erste  russische 
Kunstausstellung  (Berlin:  Galerie  van  Diemen,  1922). 

87.  L.  Moholy-Nagy,  The  New  Vision:  From  Material  to 
Architecture  (New  York:  Brener,  Warren  and  Putnam,  1930), 
p.  109. 

88.  Karl  Ioganson,  "From  Construction  to  Technology  and 
Invention,"  p.  70. 

89.  K.  Medunetskii,  V  Stenberg,  and  G.  Stenberg,  "Outline  of 
the  Report  on  'Constructivism,'"  trans.  James  West,  in  Art  Into 
Life.  p.  82. 


fig.  I 

Display  of  student  work  from  the  color  discipline,  Basic  Division, 
Vkhutemas,  1926. 


The  Place  of  Vkhutemas 
in  the  Russian  Avant- 

Natal'ia  Adaskina 

The  Moscow  Vkhutemas  (the  Higher  Artistic-Technical 
Workshops)  has  traditionally  been  regarded  as  one  of  the  most 
significant  centers  of  the  Russian  avant-garde.  Its  prominence 
was  owing  not  solely  to  the  natural  confluence  within  its  walls 
of  many  of  the  avant-garde's  leading  members  but  also — and 
with  greater  reason — to  its  having  been  there,  in  the 
workshops,  that  the  principles  of  avant-garde  artistic  culture 
were  forcefully  revealed. 

Even  as  Vkhutemas  was  being  organized,  in  order  to 
accommodate  a  number  of  changes  demanded  by  the  evolution 
of  art,  the  need  to  derive  teaching  methods  suited  to  the  new 
artistic  trends  was  one  of  the  school's  reasons  for  being. 
Analytical  methods  of  investigating  artistic  form — methods 
born  of  the  avant-garde's  experimentation — were  the 
cornerstone  of  Vkhutemas 's  pedagogical  system.  At 
Vkhutemas,  the  fundamental  tendencies  of  the  avant-garde 
movement  were  theorized  and  developed.  Here,  too,  the 
contradictions  that  had  accumulated  within  the  avant-garde, 
the  conflicts  among  its  various  strands,  and  the  crises  in  its 
development  were  in  dramatic  evidence. 

The  creation  and  operation  of  Vkhutemas  were  not,  of 
course,  joined  solely  to  considerations  of  the  avant-garde; 
Vkhutemas  was  an  institution  with  links  to  the  artistic 
currents  in  Russian  culture  of  the  1920s  as  a  whole.  The  spirit 
of  the  avant-garde,  however,  and  the  tasks  of  the  avant-garde 
movement  shaped  what  was  most  essential  in  its  character.  The 
program  of  study  and  the  teaching  methods  employed  at 
Vkhutemas  embodied  in  full  the  chief  tenets  and 
contradictions  of  the  avant-garde:  an  orientation  toward  artistic 
experimentation;  exploration  of  form;  maximally  individual, 
subjective  creation  uneasily  allied  with  the  search  for 
collective,  objective  knowledge  in  the  products  of  artistic 
experimentation;  solution  of  the  dilemma  of  analysis  and 
synthesis  in  artistic  practice  and  in  the  theorization  of 
contemporary  art;  the  variance  between  the  avant-garde's 
programmatic  orientation  toward  absolute  innovation  and  the 
historicism  that  was  characteristic  of  leading  vanguard  artists; 
and  the  search  for  ways  to  resolve  the  conflict  between  an 
orientation  toward  the  irreplicably  personal,  the  unique 
creation  of  genius,  and  an  interest  in  industrial  production, 
mechanical  reproduction,  and  the  organization  of  the  life  of  the 

Before  proceeding  to  the  heart  of  this  essay,  a  brief  review  of 
the  history  and  structure  of  Vkhutemas  is  in  order.1  This 
summary  is  indispensable,  inasmuch  as  where  Vkhutemas  has 
been  described  by  scholars,  it  has  often  appeared  to  be  a 
peculiar  chimera,  made  up  of  elements  which  could  not 
possibly  have  coexisted  (but  which  did,  in  fact,  characterize  it 
at  various  times).  It  is  essential  that  the  reader  have  some 
notion  of  a  structure  that  underwent  continuous,  and  at  times 
fundamental,  change. 

From  the  latter  half  of  the  nineteenth  century,  the  system  of 
art  education  in  Russia,  centered  on  the  Imperial  Academy  of 
Arts,  had  been  in  a  state  of  profound  crisis.  Piecemeal  reforms 
were  no  solution:  the  system  could  not  accommodate  new 
artistic  phenomena,  which  existed  apart  from  and  even  in 
defiance  of  academic  orientations;  nor  was  it  able  to  meet  the 
demands  which  industrial  development  placed  on  art  schools. 
The  first  problem  was  to  a  certain  extent  solved — other  than 
by  the  flight  of  young  people  to  art  schools  in  Paris  and 
Munich — through  an  expansion  of  the  number  of  private 
schools  and  workshops  in  Russia  (including  "workshops 
without  a  supervisor"),  where  new  methods  of  art  education 
began  to  evolve.  To  the  second  problem  there  was  for  the  time 
being  no  solution.  Those  artistic-and-industrial  schools  that 
existed  in  Russia  were  oriented  entirely  toward  manual, 
artisanal  methods  in  the  fabrication  of  everyday  objects,  in 


printing,  and  so  forth,  and  failed  to  react  at  all  to  progress  in 

The  Moscow  Vkhutemas  came  into  being  as  a  consequence  of 
the  reform  of  art  education  introduced  in  Russia  immediately 
after  the  October  Revolution.  The  reform  was  carried  out  in 
two  stages.  The  first,  in  1918,  entailed  the  abolition  of  the 
academic  system:  the  Academy  of  Arts  and  an  array  of  art  and 
artistic-and-industrial  schools  and  academies  in  various 
Russian  cities  were  put  on  an  equal  footing — all  were 
converted  into  State  Free  Art  Workshops.2  It  was  thus  that  the 
First  State  Free  Art  Workshops  (formerly  the  Stroganov 
Artistic  and  Industrial  School)  and  the  Second  State  Free  Art 
Workshops  (formerly  the  School  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and 
Architecture)  were  created  in  Moscow. 

The  conversion  of  the  Academy  of  Arts  and  other  educational 
establishments  into  State  Free  Art  Workshops  was  no  mere 
formality;  there  were  material  changes.  In  the  majority  of  the 
new  institutions  priority  was  given  to  "pure"  art,  to  painting 
above  all,  and  individual  workshops  were  introduced,  each 
workshop  following  one  or  another  artist's  own  program  and 
methods.  The  State  Free  Art  Workshops  thus  endeavored  to 
replicate  the  Renaissance  studio,  where  the  master  worked 
amid  apprentices  and  disciples  and  passed  his  experience  and 
artistry  on  to  them.  Students  were  allowed,  however,  to  elect 
workshop  supervisors  and  to  choose  freely  with  whom  to 
enroll.  Izo  Narkompros  (the  Department  of  Fine  Arts  of  the 
People's  Commissariat  of  Enlightenment)  consistently  adhered, 
moreover,  to  a  policy  of  equal  participation  in  artistic  life  for 
all  movements,  and  set  a  quota  for  them  in  the  workshops. 

The  State  Free  Art  Workshops  opened  for  classes  in  the 
autumn  of  1918;  for  the  first  time  in  its  history,  art  education  in 
Russia  was  based  on  the  principles  of  freedom  and  democracy 
That  the  new  institutions  had  as  many  definite  shortcomings 
as  incontestable  virtues — both  organizationally  and 

fig.  2 

Foreground,  display  of  student  work  from  the  space  discipline, 

Basic  Division,  Vkhutemas,  1926. 


pedagogically — gradually  became  apparent  in  the  two  years 
that  followed. 

It  was  in  the  State  Free  Art  Workshops  that  a  numbet  of 
leading  artists,  primarily  members  of  left  movements,  began  to 
create  a  system  of  art  education  derived  from  the  experience  of 
the  new  art.  As  can  be  ascertained  from  archival  materials,  the 
programs  of  Kazimir  Malevich,  Georgii  Iakulov,  and  Aleksei 
Babichev  in  the  First  Free  State  Art  Workshops,  and  of  Vasilii 
Kandinskii  in  the  Second,  were  highly  innovative.  Through  the 
efforts  of  these  and  other  artists,  new  methods  were  originated 
which  liberated  students  from  the  routine  acquisition  of 
professional  skills;  the  new  methods  developed  students' 
powers  of  perception  and  gave  them  the  means  to  fix  their 
perception  in  the  wealth  of  artistic  forms.  Yet,  insofar  as  the 
pursuit  of  primacy  in  formal  discovery  and  invention  (in 
general  inherent  in  the  avant-garde)  continued  inside  school 
walls,  there  was  no  broad  sharing  of  educational  innovations 
among  the  workshops.  There  was  a  danger  of  creating  closed 
circles,  which  would  lead  to  students'  merely  duplicating  the 
individual  styles  of  their  teachers. 

A  fair  number  of  instructors,  moreover,  held  to  their  old 
tested  methods  of  teaching.  And  they  were  supported  by  a 
large  proportion  of  students  who  during  their  previous  years  of 
study  in  the  former  schools  had  become  accustomed  to  a 
certain  logic  in  the  stale  programs  and  modes  of  instruction, 
and  strove  to  preserve  continuity. 

As  a  whole,  however,  the  State  Free  Art  Workshops  in 
Moscow  were,  during  their  two  years  of  operation,  a  breeding 
ground  for  new  initiatives.  Avant-garde  art  continued  to 
evolve,  both  within  the  educational  framework  and  parallel  to 
it;  it  assumed  new  forms.  Thus  at  the  exhibitions  of  Obmokhu 
(the  Society  of  Young  Artists),  a  group  which  had  been  formed 
in  1919  by  students  at  the  First  State  Free  Art  Workshops, 
there  were  already  no  Tatlinesque  "selections  of  materials"  but 
experimental  constructions  not  seen  heretofore.  (The  Obmokhu 
exhibition  in  May  1921  would  be  recalled  as  the  crucible  of 
Constructivism.)  At  the  end  of  1919,  Sinskul'ptarkh  (the 
Synthesis  of  Sculpture  and  Architecture  Commission),  which 
had  been  under  the  auspices  of  Izo  Narkompros,  was 
reorganized  into  Zhivskul'ptarkh  (the  Synthesis  of  Painting, 
Sculpture,  and  Architecture  Commission)  by  young  artists  and 
architects,  many  of  whom  were  at  the  time  students  in  the 
State  Free  Art  Workshops;  it  was  the  first  group  oriented 
toward  forms  that,  consonant  with  a  new  phase  of  artistic 
evolution,  synthesized  the  arts.  These  developments  had  their 
direct  continuation  inside  a  new  educational  institution  on 
whose  fate  they  exercised  a  substantial  influence:  Vkhutemas, 
which  came  into  being  when  the  First  and  Second  State  Free 
Art  Workshops  were  merged  in  1920. 

The  creation  of  Vkhutemas  belongs  to  the  second  stage  of 
the  reform  of  art  education,  when  educational  institutions 
everywhere  underwent  consolidation.  The  reasons  for  this 
action  were  various;'  two  deserve  mention.  First,  students  had 
by  this  time  become  dissatisfied  with  the  workshops'  lack  of 
clearly  delineated  programs  and  with  a  system  that  led  to  the 
mass  production  of  "little  Konchalovskiis"  and  "little  Tatlins."4 
Second,  among  avant-garde  artists,  notions  of  the  objectivity  of 
formal  laws  were  gaining  more  and  more  ground,  leaving  it 
clear  that  objective  methods  should  be  made  the  general  basis 
of  art  education. 

The  Decree  of  the  Council  of  People's  Commissars  on  the 
Moscow  Higher  State  Artistic-Technical  Workshops  was 
ratified  on  November  29,  1920,  and  signed  by  Lenin  on 
December  18th.  It  is  symptomatic  that  the  decree  was  silent  on 
the  graduation  of  "pure"  artists,  traditionally  the  chief  aim  of 
art  education;  that  is,  unlike  the  State  Free  Art  Workshops, 
Vkhutemas  tilted  from  its  inception  in  favor  of  an  artistic-and- 


Workshop  in  the  Woodworking  Faculty,  Vkhutein,  1928. 
Photograph  Aleksandr  Rodchenko. 


technical  education.  The  decree  also  set  out  the  structure  of 
Vkhutemas.  It  would  have  eight  faculties — Architecture, 
Painting,  Sculpture,  Graphics,  Textiles,  Ceramics, 
Woodworking,  and  Metalworking — for  each  of  which  a 
preparatory  (or  basic)  division  was  envisioned. 

The  history  of  Vkhutemas/Vkhutein5  falls  rather  neatly  into 
three  basic  periods,  each  corresponding  to  the  tenure  of  one  of 
its  three  rectors.  The  principal  conflicts  and  many  of  the 
personnel  changes  at  Vkhutemas  were  in  one  way  or  another, 
directly  or  more  often  indirectly,  linked  to  the  issue  of 
Vkhutemas 's  orientation.  The  chief  battles  were  fought  over 
whether  that  orientation  should  be  toward  "pure"  or 
production  art. 

Insofar  as  it  is  possible  to  characterize  each  of  these  periods 
succinctly  and  schematically,  the  sculptor  Efim  Ravdel's  term 
as  rector  (1920—23)  can  be  labeled  the  period  in  which 
Vkhutemas 's  pedagogical  methods  (its  so-called  distsipliny,  or 
disciplines)  were  formulated  and  its  eight  faculties,  with  a 
preparatory  course  (offered  in  the  Basic  Division)  common  to 
all,  put  in  place.  Ravdel's  term  also  witnessed  the  rise  of 
Productivist  tendencies  (which,  though  they  had  been 
mentioned  in  the  1920  decree,  had  then  yet  to  take  root), 
culminating  in  the  transfer  of  a  number  of  left  artists  of  a 
Constructivist  orientation  from  the  preparatory-course 
workshops  to  the  production  faculties. 

Vladimir  Favorskii,  who  served  as  rector  during  1923-26, 
presided  over  the  most  fruitful  and  harmonious  period  in  the 
history  of  Vkhutemas.  In  these  years,  its  structure  attained  its 
final  form.  The  preparatory  Basic  Course — where  the  formal- 
analytical  disciplines  had  first  been  employed  and  which  had 
originally  been  developed  as  an  introduction  to  architecture 
and  non-objective  painting  and  later  oriented  toward 
production  art — was  rethought  and  adapted  to  encompass  all 
varieties  of  artistic  work,  to  the  point  of  including  the 
principles  of  Realist  figurative  art  in  its  teaching.  The  Basic 
Course  became,  that  is,  the  universal  foundation  of  art 
education.  An  effort  was  likewise  made  to  regulate  and 
systematize  the  programs  of  Vkhutemas 's  faculties.  During  this 
period,  moreover,  "easel  art"  and  production  art  attained,  and 
maintained,  an  equal  footing.  It  was  not  an  artificial 
equilibrium,  for  Favorskii  conceived  the  various  fields  of  art  as 
a  single  system,  and  he  endeavored  to  make  this  belief  the 
guiding  principle  of  Vkhutemas. 

Favorskii  was  succeeded  in  1926  by  Pavel  Novitskii,  and  a 
technical  preoccupation  again  came  to  the  fore,  accompanied 
this  time  by  "sociologizing"  tendencies  in  the  fine-arts 
faculties.  The  notion  of  the  formal  oneness  of  all  varieties  of 
art,  which  had  been  so  diligently  nurtured  in  previous  years, 
was  discarded.  The  Basic  Division,  where  students  of  all 
specializations  were  taught  the  same  formal  and  artistic 
principles,  was  cut  back  sharply,  the  length  of  its  course 
reduced  from  two  years  to  six  months.  The  links  of  each  faculty 
to  the  others  were  considerably  weakened.  Vkhutein  was 
splintered  into  self-contained  faculties,  each  of  whose  fates  was 
individually  determined — and  ceased  to  exist. 

Let  us  return,  however,  to  the  matter  of  the  avant-garde. 
Vkhutemas  gathered  together  within  its  walls  the  most 
prominent  representatives  of  avant-garde  trends  of  the  1910s.  A 
number  of  these  artists — Aleksandr  Shevchenko,  Anna 
Golubkina,  Aleksandr  Drevin,  Kandinskii,  Petr  Konchalovskii, 
Boris  Korolev,  Pavel  Kuznetsov,  Aristarkh  Lentulov,  Il'ia 
Mashkov,  and  Robert  Fal'k,  among  others — were  given  their 
own  workshops  in  the  Painting  and  Sculpture  faculties. 
Others — Vladimir  Baranov-Rossine,  Nadezhda  Udal'tsova, 
Ivan  Kliun,  Aleksandr  Vesnin,  Liubov1  Popova,  Aleksandr 
Rodchenko,  Aleksandra  Ekster,  and  Aleksandr  Os'merkin — 
received  workshops  in  the  Basic  Division. 

fig- 4 


Student  work  from  the  color  discipline,  Basic  Division,  Vkhutemas. 


Throughout  all  the  organizational  changes  and  fluctuations 
in  policy  at  Vkhutemas/Vkhutein,  the  workshops  in  the 
Painting  Faculty  preserved  as  best  they  could  their  character — 
acquired  back  in  the  days  of  the  State  Free  Art  Workshops — as 
self-sufficient  studios  centered  about  one  master  artist.  They 
were  an  embodiment  of  the  avant-garde  cult  of  the  artist  as 
demiurge,  of  the  absolute  creative  personality.  The  influence  of 
these  artist-teachers  on  their  students  can  be  discerned  in  the 
stylistic  tendencies  of  later  Soviet  painting;  distinct  trends  can 
be  traced  to  students  of  Shevchenko,  Fal'k,  Kuznetsov, 
Konstantin  Istomin,  and  others.  There  was,  of  course,  no  hard 
and  fast  correlation  between  such  influence  and  a  teacher's 
originality.  David  Shterenberg's  students,  for  example,  showed 
no  discernible  signs  of  his  influence.  (It  is  no  coincidence  that 
it  was  in  Shterenberg's  workshop  that  the  student  Aaron 
Rzheznikov  organized,  as  was  allowed  under  workshop  rules,  a 
"workshop  without  a  supervisor"  at  the  end  of  the  1920s.) 

Not  only  the  subjective  and  individual  but  the  objective  and 
universal — that  is,  both  halves  of  the  fundamental  avant-garde 
antithesis — came  into  play  at  Vkhutemas.  Even  in  its  earliest 
stages,  formal  experimentation  by  the  avant-garde  took  on  the 
features  of  a  scientific  inquiry.  Spontaneous  self-expression, 
both  in  the  work  of  a  single  avant-garde  artist  and  in  the  self- 
reflexion  of  a  group  of  artists,  was  constantly  conjoined  and 
intertwined  with  attempts  to  formulate  objective  laws  of 
perception  and  form.  The  work  of  Kandinskii  is  without 
question  the  best  example  of  this  conjunction  of  the  subjective 
and  objective. 

Kandinskii  was  at  the  forefront  of  the  Russian  avant-garde's 
artistic  science,  having  organized  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of 
Artistic  Culture)  in  1920  precisely  for  the  conduct  of  objective 
investigations  into  the  elements  of  art.  Kandinskii  drew  up  a 
research  program  for  Inkhuk  and  initiated  its  implementation; 
shortly  afterward,  however,  disagreements  arose;  Kandinskii 
departed,  and  Inkhuk  followed  a  somewhat  different  course 
from  that  mapped  by  him.  There  is  not  space  here  to  examine 
in  detail  the  work  and  interaction  of  those  affiliated  with 
Inkhuk.  Suffice  it  to  emphasize  Kandinskii's  indisputable 
influence  on  an  array  of  artists  who  would  seem  to  have 
rejected  his  conceptions  and  methods.  Certain  of  those  artists 
were  teachers  at  Vkhutemas.  (The  research  at  Inkhuk  and  the 
work  of  Vkhutemas  were  tightly  interwoven.) 

The  work  done  at  Vkhutemas  testifies,  above  all,  to  the 
avant-garde's  love  of  theorizing.  The  impulse  to  theorize — 
which  at  earlier  stages  (and  in  other  social  and  cultural 
conditions)  had  found  an  outlet  in  manifestos  and  pamphlets 
and  in  oral,  colloquial  forms — now,  at  the  beginning  of  the 
1920s,  was  funneled  into  scientific  papers  (at  Inkhuk)  and 
academic  programs  (at  Vkhutemas;  at  GVTM  {the  Higher 
State  Theater  Workshops],  organized  by  Vsevolod  Meierkhol'd; 
and  elsewhere).  Creative  work — reflections  on  artists' 
individual  and  group  evolution — continued  to  be  the  stuff  of 
these  new  (to  artists)  genres  of  theorizing. 

By  this  time,  of  course,  theories  had  been  advanced  in  some 
quantity  by  art  critics  and  historians.  Nikolai  Tarabukin  (also  a 
member  of  Inkhuk)  had  already  written  his  Opyt  teorii  zbivopisi 
(Toward  a  Theory  of  Painting,  1916),  in  which  he  defined  the 
study  of  the  history  of  art  as  the  "analysis  of  the  elements  of 
artistic  creations."6  During  the  same  period,  Nikolai  Punin's 
examination  of  contemporary  tendencies  in  art  had  led  him  to  a 
variant  of  the  formal-analytical  theory  of  art.  Punin  had  also 
played  a  crucial  role  in  defining  the  concept  of  "artistic 
culture,"  the  theoretical  underpinning  of  the  measures  enacted 
by  the  Petrograd  Izo  Narkompros  in  the  immediate 
postrevolutionary  period.7  "Artistic  culture"  was  a  notion 
derived  by  theorists  of  the  Russian  avant-garde  from  the  actual 
practice  of  new  artistic  trends.  The  values  of  "artistic  culture" 

fig- 5 

Petr  Galaktionov  with  his  diploma  project:  furnishings  for  a  movie 

theater,  Vkhutein,  ip2p. 

fig.  6 

Students  in  Lavinskii's  workshop  building  a  model  of  a  rural  reading 
room  for  display  at  the  Exposition  internationale  des  arts 
decoratifs  et  industriels  modernes,  192$. 


were  defined  as  purely  professional  ones,  the  product  of  the 
"sustained  artistic  labor"  of  various  schools. 

At  the  beginning  of  the  1920s,  analysis — isolating  among 
the  wide  range  of  professional  artistic  means  and  devices  those 
of  chief  importance  to  a  given  movement,  and  making  them 
absolutes  in  artistic  work — became  the  chief  method  of  the 
new  art  scholarship,  as  well  as  the  organizing  principle  of 
artistic  life — of  exhibitions,  museums,  and  art  education. 

Describing  his  plans  for  the  Museum  of  Painterly  Culture, 
Kandinskii  wrote  in  1920:  "It  will  collect  experiments  in 
formal  construction  according  to  the  principle  of  juxtaposition: 
color  planes  and  linear  planes;  the  alignment,  collision,  and 
resolution  of  planes;  the  relation  of  surface-plane  and  volume; 
treatment  of  surface-plane  and  volume  as  self-sufficient 
elements;  the  coincidence  or  disconnection  of  linear  and 
painterly  planes  and  volumes;  experiments  in  the  creation  of 
purely  volumetric  forms,  both  unitary  and  combinational,  and 
so  forth."8  It  was  certainly  under  the  influence  of  these 
conceptions  of  Kandinskii's — though  already  in  his  absence — 
that  Babichev  and  Popova  evolved  their  research  programs  in 
the  Monumental  Art  Section  of  the  Working  Group  of 
Objective  Analysis  at  Inkhuk.  The  same  conceptions  lay  at  the 
heart  of  the  system  of  disciplines  in  the  Basic  Division  of 
Vkhutemas — whose  most  active  creator  and  coordinator  was, 
again,  Popova. 

For  Kandinskii,  analytical  work  was  merely  an  interim  stage 
in  the  quest  for  synthesis,  or,  in  his  terminology,  "monumental 
art."  For  members  of  the  Objective  Analysis  Section  at  Inkhuk 
and  for  teachers  in  Vkhutemas 's  Basic  Division  in  1921-22, 
however,  analytical  work  was  no  mere  sideline  or  auxiliary 
stage  but  an  artistic  and  theoretical  value  in  its  own  right.  For 
them,  moreover,  the  synthesis  of  formal  and  analytical 
experimentation — when  they  spoke  of  synthesis — was  not 
Kandinskii's  "monumental  art"  but  production  art,  a 
specifically  Russian  offspring  of  the  analytical  stage  in  the 
evolution  of  the  avant-garde.  This  bears  on  the  fate  of  the  Basic 
Division  in  Vkhutemas 's  first  period  and  of  those  production 
faculties  which  came  under  the  influence  of  Rodchenko's 

At  Vkhutemas,  it  was  Favorskii's  policy,  followed  in  1923—26, 
which,  in  its  conception  of  the  unity  of  the  arts  and  its  support 
for  the  work  of  art  as  an  integrated  and  finished  expression  of 
artistic  reality,  was  kindred  with  the  ideas  of  Kandinskii.  There 
were,  of  course,  critical  discrepancies  between  Kandinskii's 
understanding  of  these  matters  and  their  interpretation  by 
Favorskii's  adherents.  Thus,  whereas  Kandinskii  sought  to 
study  the  laws  of  artistry  as  a  whole,  embracing  both  the 
spatial  and  the  temporal  arts,  Vkhutemas  confined  itself 
strictly  to  the  spatial  arts. 

In  the  clash  between  the  Constructivism  of  the  Productivists 
and  Favorskii's  synthesizing,  two  principles  of  the  Russian 
avant-garde — the  mechanical  and  the  organic,  respectively — 
collided.  (Although  somewhat  later,  in  the  latter  half  of  the 
1920s,  Petr  Miturich,  in  the  Printing  Trades  Faculty  [as  the 
Graphics  Faculty  had  been  renamed],  rebelled  against 
Favorskii's  methods  as  mechanistic  from  the  point  of  view  of 
free  artistic  intuition.)9 

The  notion  of  the  oneness  of  the  formal  laws  of  all  the  spatial 




fig-  7 

Aleksandr  Rodchenko 

Design  for  a  signboard  for  Vkhutemas,  1924. 

fig.  8 

Cover  for  Vkhutein  prospectus,  1929. 


arts  was  the  cornerstone  of  Vkhutemas's  educational  system 
and  united  proponents  of  diverse  trends.  Zhivskul'ptarkh  had 
been  the  first  to  experiment  in  promoting  this  unity — prior  to 
the  establishment  of  Vkhutemas.  Its  exhibitions  were 
noteworthy  not  merely  for  joining  architects,  painters,  and 
sculptors  in  one  show  but  for  their  astonishing  blending  of  art 
forms.  The  painters  Rodchenko  and  Shevchenko,  the  sculptor 
Korolev,  the  architects  Nikolai  Ladovskii  and  Vladimir 
Krinskii,  and  others  exhibited  works  belonging  to  one  and  the 
same  nontraditional  genre:  fantastic  architectural  projects  for 
"houses  of  Soviets,"  kiosks,  communal  housing,  and  so  on. 
These  "paper  projects,"  executed  in  the  Cubo-Futurist  painting 
style  of  the  era,  were  presented  more  as  "easel  art"  than 
traditional  architectural  production.  They  bore  witness  to  the 
organic  unity  of  formal  conceptions  held  by  representatives  of 
different  fields  of  art;  to  the  significance,  at  that  moment,  of 
formal  experimentation  in  painting  for  all  types  of  art;  and  to 
the  importance  of  space  as  the  material  and  constructive 
principle  of  form — not  just  for  architects  and  sculptors  but  also 
for  painters,  who  had  not  turned  merely  by  chance  to  creating 
architectural  projects  on  paper. 

Joining  forces  in  Vkhutemas's  Basic  Course,  Rodchenko, 
Popova,  Anton  Lavinskii,  Vladimir  Khrakovskii,  Viktor 
Kiselev,  Korolev,  Ladovskii,  and  Krinskii — painters,  sculptors, 
and  architects — fashioned  teaching  methods  based  on  their 
shared  conceptions.  In  1920,  Ladovskii  independently  worked 
out  "psychoanalytical"  methods  in  the  Obmas  (the  United 
Workshops  of  the  Architecture  Faculty).  In  1920-21,  an  effort 
was  made  in  the  Basic  Division  to  assign  successive  phases  in 
the  study  of  form  in  painting  to  separate  workshops:  "color" 
would  be  studied  in  certain  of  them,  "volume  in  painting"  in 
others,  "construction"  in  yet  others,  and  so  on.  At  that  time, 
Popova  and  Vesnin's  workshop,  for  instance,  was  labeled 
"Discipline  No.  1:  Color."  These  first  analytical  endeavors  were, 
however,  still  very  imprecise. 

During  the  next  stage  (1922-23),  the  artists  worked  at 
systematizing  programs  and  student  work,  having  added 
"volumetric"  and  "spatial"  disciplines  to  the  "painterly."  The 
task  of  integrating  the  new  disciplines  into  the  training  of 
students  of  all  specializations  was  taken  up  by  the  architects 
Ladovskii  and  Krinskii. 

As  this  effort  proceeded,  the  aim  of  the  Basic  Course 
changed.  Initially,  when  they  created  their  introductory 
program — the  analytical  or,  as  they  were  also  called, 
"objective"  disciplines — the  teachers  of  the  Painting  and 
Sculpture  faculties  had  seen  their  goal  as  the  training  of  "easel 
artists,"  of  non-objective  artists.  During  1921-23,  the  notion  of 
production  art — whose  forms  were  typically  refutations  of 
"pure"  art — came  to  the  fore  and  gathered  momentum  in 
vanguard  circles.  By  late  1922-early  1923,  a  new  preparatory 
course  had  been  conceived;  it  was  based  on  the  analytical  study 
of  form  according  to  a  clear-cut  logic — from  surface-planarity 
through  volume  to  space — and  was  intended  to  foster 
production  artists. 

A  group  composed  of  Rodchenko,  Aleksandr  Vesnin, 
Lavinskii,  and  Popova  presented  Vkhutemas's  directors  with  a 
plan  (of  Popova's  design)  to  convert  the  Basic  Division  into  a 
design  faculty  with  a  two-year  introductory  program  and  a 
two-year  course  in  production  art — production  art  at  that 
moment  being  conceived  to  include  street  and  interior 
decoration,  industrial  graphics,  clothing  design,  and  so  forth. 
It  was  a  plan,  that  is,  to  prepare  students  for  the  very  same 
work  that  the  Constructivists-Productivists  were  turning  to  at 
the  time.  But  the  plan  was  rejected  and  never  put  into  effect. 
Rodchenko,  Lavinskii,  and  Kiselev — all  now  Productivists — 
moved  to  the  Metalworking  and  Woodworking  faculties  and 
there  began  instituting  changes,  replacing  old  received  notions 

fig- 9 

Students  in  Rodchenko  s  workshop,  Vkhutemas,  1924. 


of  applied  art  with  new  Constructivist  tenets.  Popova  had 
started  teaching  at  GVTM  under  Meierkhol'd  in  1921,  and  in 
1923  left  Vkhutemas. 

Conflicts  between  the  Productivists  and  the  partisans  of 
traditional  artistic  forms  were  a  hallmark  of  the  years  1923-24. 
While  the  Constructivists-Productivists — also  known  as  the 
"Productivists  from  Lef  [the  Left  Front  of  the  Arts]" — resolved 
the  "easel  versus  production"  impasse  unequivocally  in  favor  of 
production  art,  Favorskii  and  his  sympathizers — Nikolai 
Dokuchaev,  Istomin,  Pavel  Pavlinov,  and  certain  others — saw 
the  matter  differently. 

Favorskii,  whom  the  "Productivists  from  Lef  had  trouble 
putting  their  finger  on  (was  he  an  "easel  painter,"  "applied 
artist,"  or  "Productivist  mystic"?),'0  by  and  large  erased  the 
distinction  between  the  two  areas  of  creation.  According  to 
Favorskii 's  theory,  the  evolution  of  form  proceeded  from 
surface-planarity  through  volume  to  space — in  the  same 
sequence,  that  is,  as  was  followed  in  the  courses  of  the  Basic 
Division.  Once  he  became  Vkhutemas 's  rector  in  1923, 
Favorskii  aspired  not  only  to  shore  up  advances  already  made  in 
the  Basic  Division  and  to  make  the  preparatory  course 
compulsory  and  profitable  for  students  in  all  faculties  but  to 
extend  the  logic  of  the  formal  disciplines  to  Vkhutemas 's 
structure  and  methods  as  a  whole.  Favorskii's  theoretical  views 
relied  both  on  the  traditions  of  European  Formalism  and  on 
direct  analysis  of  avant-garde  art  and  the  practices  of  Russian 
artists,  his  Vkhutemas  colleagues  included.  The  Productivists, 
nonetheless,  did  not  view  Favorskii  as  one  of  their  own. 

In  the  middle  and  late  1920s,  Constructivist  tendencies  were 
strong  in  the  Metalworking  Faculty,  where  Rodchenko  and 
Tatlin  were  teachers;  in  the  Woodworking  Faculty,  where 
Lissitzky  had  been  teaching  since  his  return  from  Europe;  and 
in  the  Textile  Faculty — there  the  result  of  Varvara  Stepanova's 
influence.  In  the  Architecture  Faculty,  traditionalists, 
Formalists  (Ladovskii  and  his  colleagues),  and  Constructivists 
(the  Vesnins  and  their  followers)  all  battled  for  influence.  The 
Formalists'  theoretical  and  artistic  orientation  came  closest  to 
Favorskii's  conceptions,  though  Favorskii  was  not  reckoned,  as 
were  the  Formalists,  among  the  innovators. 

More  and  more  painters  who  had  once  belonged  to  the  avant- 
garde — members  of  Bubnovyi  valet  (Jack  of  Diamonds), 
including  Mashkov,  Lentulov,  and  Konchalovskii;  and  artists  of 
Orientalist  and  Primitivist  allegiances — were  flocking  to 
traditionalism  by  this  time.  Their  evolution  led  them  further 
and  further  away  from  formal  and  artistic  experimentation.  As 
a  result,  they  strove  in  their  teaching  practices  as  well  to  keep 
to  the  model  of  the  turn-of-the-century  Parisian  studio — and 
one  of  a  moderate  bent  at  that. 

In  mid-decade,  it  was  in  the  Basic  Division  and  the  Printing 
Trades  Faculty  that  the  formal  and  analytical  methods  created 
by  non-objective  artists  in  1920-23  were  adhered  to  most 
closely  and  consistently.  They  were  employed  by,  among 
others,  Istomin,  Pavlinov,  Khrakovskii,  the  sculptors  Nina 
Niss-Gol'dman  and  Romual'd  Iodko,  and  the  architects 
(students  of  Ladovskii  s)  Viktor  Balikhin,  Mikhail  Turkus, 
Mikhail  Korzhev,  and  Ivan  Lamtsov.  Yet,  while  in  the  Basic 
Division  attitudes  toward  these  methods  remained  unchanged 
over  the  entire  decade,  members  of  the  specialized  faculties 
complained  more  than  once  that  they  amounted  to  an 
unnecessary  academic  exercise,  a  waste  of  students'  time. 

Toward  the  end  of  the  1920s,  as  mentioned  earlier,  Vkhutein 
witnessed  a  growing  technical  preoccupation,  a  tendency  to,  as 
Favorskii  put  it,  "play  engineer."  The  finely  adjusted  balance 
between  artistic  and  technical  disciplines  in  the  education  of 
designers  (graphic  artists,  furniture  designers,  textile  designers, 
ceramists,  and  so  forth)  and  of  architects  was  targeted  for 
change,  at  the  expense  of  the  formal  artistic  disciplines.  In  the 

fig.  10 

Aleksandr  Deineka 

Vkhutemas,  illustration  for  Revolutionary  Moscow,  1921.  The 

album  was  distributed  among  delegates  to  the  Third  Congress  of  the 



training  of  "pure"  artists  (painters  and  sculptors),  more  and 
more  attention  was  paid  not  to  professional  but  to  ideological 
requirements.  It  was  Novitskii — a  theorist  and  member  of 
October,  one  of  the  last  left  groups  in  Soviet  art — who  presided 
over  the  adoption  of  technical  and  "sociologizing"  approaches 
to  art.  His  disposition  toward  sociologizing  was  shared  by  such 
"right"  groups  as  OMAKhR  (the  Young  People's  Section  of  the 
Association  of  Artists  of  the  Revolution),  whose  ranks  included 
students  at  Vkhutein. 

The  pitched  battle  among  artists'  groups  in  the  middle  and 
late  1920s  drew  in  a  large  number  of  Vkhutemas/Vkhutein's 
teachers  and  students.  The  most  influential  groups,  apart  from 
October  and  AKhRR  (the  Association  of  Artists  of 
Revolutionary  Russia;  from  1928  the  Association  of  Artists  of 
the  Revolution,  or  AKhR),  were  Ost  (the  Society  of  Easel 
Painters) — whose  members  included  both 
Vkhutemas/Vkhutein  teachers  (Shterenberg  and  Nikolai 
Kupreianov)  and  graduates  (such  as  Andrei  Goncharov,  Iurii 
Pimenov,  Aleksandr  Deineka,  and  Petr  Vil'iams) — and  Four 
Arts,  an  association  that  brought  together  diverse,  chiefly 
middle-aged  artists,  many  of  whom  taught  at  the  school 
(Favorskii,  Istomin,  Miturich,  Kuznetsov,  Vera  Mukhina,  Ivan 
Zholtovskii,  and  others). 

The  October  group  stood  for  the  avant-garde's  movement 
into  production.  The  members  of  AKhRR,  among  whom  were 
many  solidly  left  artists  of  the  1910s  (such  as  Lentulov  and 
Mashkov),  were  apostates  who  renounced  the  avant-garde 
entirely.  The  young  artists  of  Ost  adapted  the  avant-garde 
legacy  to  easel  painting  and  figuration  (it  is  here,  perhaps,  that 
the  legacy  of  Vkhutemas  is  most  pronounced).  And  Four  Arts 
sought  to  preserve  artistic  culture  in  conditions  of  increasing 
ideological  pressure.  (Yet,  while  many  artists  of  this  group 
were  at  home  with  the  latest  innovations,  they  perceived  them 
solely  in  the  context  of  the  centuries-long  evolution  of  art.) 

A  tendency  to  fall  back  on  tradition  had  existed  at 
Vkhutemas  alongside  the  enthusiasm  for  innovation  inherited 
from  the  avant-garde  of  the  1910s.  And  although  the  study  of 
traditions  and  history  (of  professional  trades,  art  forms,  and 
artistic  trends  and  schools)  was  not  put  forward  as  the  chief 
method  of  art  education — as  it  had  been,  for  example,  at  the 
former  Stroganov  School  (everything  there  was  based  on  a 
thorough  study  of  styles)  or  in  the  architecture  department  of 
the  Moscow  School  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and  Architecture — 
it  did,  after  a  certain  struggle,  find  a  place  in  the  programs  of 
various  faculties.  That  it  did  is  not  solely  a  measure  of  the 
influence  of  purely  traditionalist  tendencies  having  no  relation 
whatsoever  to  the  avant-garde;  it  is  also  an  index  of  the  avant- 
garde's  own  attention  to  history.  For  when  they  turned  to  the 
theorization  of  vanguard  trends  in  art  and  to  the  creation  of 
educational  systems  and  teaching  methods,  Malevich,  Moisei 
Ginzburg,  Popova  and  her  colleagues  at  Inkhuk,  and  other 
artists  traced  the  historical  evolution  of  art  with  great  care, 
uncovering  the  "additional  element"  (Malevich's  famous  term) 
in  each  new  movement.  They  sought  to  organize  exhibitions  in 
the  new  museums  of  painterly  or  artistic  culture  according  to 
the  same  evolutionary  outline. 

It  should  be  recalled  that  in  1923  Moscow's  Museum  of 
Painterly  Culture  moved  to  one  of  the  Vkhutemas  buildings  at 
11  Rozhdestvenka  (previously  the  site  of  the  Stroganov  School). 
Rodchenko  had  been  the  museum's  director  in  1920—22; 
Vil'iams  and  Lazar1  Vainer  administered  it,  and  Solomon 
Nikritin  headed  its  Research  Board,  in  later  years  (all  were 
Vkhutemas  graduates).  There  Nikritin  applied  the  method  of 
formal  analysis  to  the  study  of  masterpieces  of  the  past  and 
endeavored  to  find  exact  and  reliable  mathematical  formulas 
for  the  older  artists'  work.  In  1925,  the  museum  was  the  site  of 
the  survey  exhibition  Levye  techeniia  v  russkoi  zhivopisi  za  15  let 

fig.  11 

The  former  Vkhutemas  building  on  Kirov  Street,  1976. 
Photograph  Aleksandr  Lavrent'ev. 







BbIA  B  9TON!  AOi, 
BblCl  HI  'X  X  VHO^KECTBEI-ifibr 


fig.  12 

Serge/'  Sew  !&i# 

Tablet  for  the  former  Vkhutemas  building  commemorating  Lenin's 

visit  to  the  school  on  February  2$,  ip2i;  first  version,  1960s. 

{Left  Trends  in  Russian  Painting  over  the  Past  Fifteen  Years). 

But,  of  course,  what  linked  Vkhutemas  to  the  avant-garde 
above  all  and  made  it,  for  all  the  twists  and  turns  in  its 
orientation  and  history,  a  center  of  the  avant-garde  was  the 
spirit  of  invention  and  experimentation  which  prevailed  in  the 
majority  of  its  classrooms  and  workshops.  The  production 
faculties,  under  the  guidance  of  such  leading  artist- 
constructors  as  Rodchenko,  Tatlin,  Lissitzky,  and  Stepanova, 
were  a  major  site  of  innovation.  Two  vanguard  movements — 
Constructivism  and  Rationalism — took  shape  in  the 
Architecture  Faculty.  (Graduates  of  the  Architecture  Faculty 
included  such  major  figures  as  Ivan  Leonidov.) 

But  while  unconcealed  and  programmatic  innovation  in 
architecture  and  design  flourished  at  Vkhutemas,  and  was 
difficult  to  oppose,  the  situation  in  the  Printing  Trades  Faculty 
was  not  so  straightforward.  Students  in  that  faculty  practiced 
Constructivist-style  innovations,  based  on  exploitation  of  the 
possibilities  of  typographical  techniques,  yet  these  innovations 
occurred  outside  rather  than  within  the  classroom,  where 
formal  mastery,  achieved  via  the  study  of  traditional  techniques 
and  devices,  was  wanted.  Once  students  had  acquired  those 
skills,  however,  they  incorporated  in  their  work  lessons  learned 
from  Rodchenko,  Lissitzky,  Gustav  Klutsis,  and  other  artists, 
who  may  not  have  been  teachers  in  the  Printing  Trades  Faculty 
but  were  continually  at  the  center  of  students'  attention.  The 
vanguard  artists'  influence  showed  itself  constantly,  in  both  the 
students'  assigned  and  their  elective  work. 

By  virtue  of  its  concentrated  atmosphere  of  exploration  and 
innovation,  Vkhutemas  was  for  many  years  the  site  of  diverse 
artistic  undertakings.  Among  them  were  the  Workshop  of  the 
Revolution — an  attempt  to  translate  the  energy  of  the  avant- 
garde  into  agitational  forms — that  Sergei  Sen'kin,  Klutsis,  and 
others  made  plans  to  organize  in  1924.  A  Projectionist  Theater, 
an  experiment  by  Nikolai  Triaskin,  Sergei  Luchishkin,  and 
Nikritin  with  Abstractionism  in  the  theater,  offered 
performances  in  1923  and  1924.  And  the  overwhelming 
majority  of  the  participants  in  the  Pervaia  diskussionnaia 
vystavka  ob  "edinenii  aktivnogo  revoliutsionnogo  iskusstva  {First 
Discussional  Exhibition  of  Associations  of  Active  Revolutionary  Art, 
Moscow,  1924),  held  in  an  exhibition  space  belonging  to 
Vkhutemas,  had  connections  to  the  school;  they  were  teachers, 
students,  or  recent  graduates. 

What,  then,  was  the  role  played  by  Vkhutemas  in  the  history 
of  the  Russian  avant-garde?  Before  attempting  an  answer,  one 
should  recall  that  Vkhutemas  came  into  being  when  the  avant- 
garde  movement  was  already  waning  (its  peak,  of  course,  came 
in  the  mid-  to  late  1910s).  Vkhutemas,  by  assembling  vanguard 
artists  to  be  its  teachers,  became  a  repository  of  the  spirit  of  the 
avant-garde.  And  it  met  the  avant-garde's  quest  for  its  own 
educational  institution  and  teaching  methods — methods  which 
the  avant-garde  was  obliged  to  create,  because  the  values  it 
championed  were  professional  values. 

With  the  adoption  of  the  formal-analytical  studies  and 
synthesizing  ideas  of  the  avant-garde  into  art  education,  these 
values  became  an  integral  part  of  the  artistic  consciousness  of 
Vkhutemas 's  graduates.  And  of  succeeding  generations. 
Because  graduates  of  Vkhutemas  became  teachers  in  Moscow's 
institutions  of  higher  education;  the  ideas  and  formal 
discoveries  of  the  Russian  avant-garde — which  had  become  the 
ideas  and  practices  of  Vkhutemas — were  part  of  the 
consciousness  of  young  artists  of  the  late  1950s  and  early  1960s. 
(Nor  have  these  ideas  lost  their  significance  for  art  today.) 
Vkhutemas 's  introduction  of  the  values  of  avant-garde  art  into 
artistic  culture  as  a  whole  was,  without  question,  its  greatest 

-Translated,  from  the  Russian,  by  Jane  Bobko 



i.  Thus  far,  research  on  Vkhutemas  has  been  scattered 
throughout  a  large  number  of  articles.  The  principal  studies  are 
those  of  R.  Antonov,  A.  Lavrent'ev,  S.  O.  Khan-Magomedov, 
and  this  author  in  the  journal  Tekhnicheskaia  estetika  and  the 
Tekhnicheskaia  estetika  series  of  the  Trudy  VNIITE  (nos.  28,  34, 
and  41  are  the  most  pertinent).  Khan-Magomedov 's 
VHUTEMAS.  Moscou,  1920-1930,  trans.  Joe'lle  Aubert-Yong, 
Nikita  Krivocheine,  and  Jean-Claude  Marcade,  2  vols.  (Paris: 
Editions  du  Regard,  1990)  has  recently  appeared,  and  a  volume 
entitled  Vkhutemas — Vkhutein.  1920-1930  is  forthcoming  from 
Sovetskii  khudozhnik.  There  is  reason  to  hope  that  the  gaps  in 
our  knowledge  of  Vkhutemas  will  soon  be  filled. 

2.  The  entire  conversion  was  overseen  by  Narkompros,  which  at 
that  time  counted  many  leading  artists  among  its  members, 
most  of  them  adherents  of  the  left  (Cubo-Futurists,  non- 
objective  artists,  and  Suprematists)  or  center  (Cezannists, 
Orientalists,  and  Primitivists). 

3.  Narkompros 's  limited  resources  for  the  upkeep  of  educational 
institutions  were  one  of  the  reasons.  Nonetheless,  the  creation 
of  Vkhutemas  via  the  consolidation  of  the  State  Free  Art 
Workshops  is  highly  reminiscent  of  the  measures  adopted  in  a 
number  of  European  countries  in  the  1900s  and  1910s,  when  the 
demands  of  industrial  development  were  met  by  merging 
academies  of  fine  arts  and  schools  of  applied  arts  into  a  new  type 
of  art  school. 

4.  The  unhappy  students  once  hung  a  placard  in  the  First  State 
Free  Art  Workshops'  entryway,  on  which  they  had  written: 
"Down  with  the  titanic  Picassos  and  Gauguins!  It's  enough  to 
mass-produce  Tatlins,  Konchalovskiis,  Fedorovskiis, 
Os'merkins,  Lentulovs  .  .  ."  (the  list  continued  through  all  the 
teachers'  names). 

5.  Vkhutemas  was  renamed  Vkhutein  (the  Higher  Artistic- 
Technical  Institute)  in  1927. 

6.  N.  Tarabukin,  Opyt  teorii  zhtvopisi  (Moscow:  Proletkul't,  1923), 
p.  6.  The  book  was  written  in  1916. 

7.  The  statute  of  the  Department  of  Fine  Arts  and  Artistic 
Industry  on  "artistic  culture"  was  published  in  Iski/sstvo 
kommuny,  February  16,  1919.  For  a  detailed  discussion  of  this 
concept,  see  Svetlana  Dzhafarova,  "The  Creation  of  the  Museum 
of  Painterly  Culture,"  in  this  volume. 

8.  V  Kandinskii,  "Muzei  zhivopisnoi  kul'tury," 
Kbudozhestvennaia  zhizn'  2  (1920),  p.  20. 

9.  See  N.  Adaskina,  "Iz  istorii  poligraffaka  Vkhutemasa 
(Ob"ektivno-analiticheskie  i  tvorcheski-lichnostnye  nachala 
khudozhestvennoi  pedagogiki),"  in  Sovremennyi  dizain  i  naslcdie 
Vkhutemasa,  Trudy  VNIITE,  vyp.  34  (Moscow:  Vsesoiuznyi 
naucho-issledovatel'skii  institut  tekhnicheskoi  estetiki,  1982). 

10.  L<?/2(i923),  p.  174. 




rtoc^csjniA    ^ya^juo.       J\VV(  j*j 

fig.  i 

Page  from  Rodchenko's  notebook  with  sketch 
for  cover  for  Linear ism,  ip20. 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova 
Archive,  Moscow. 


What  Is  Linearism? 

Aleksandr  Lavrent  'ev 

The  term  Linearism  (liniizm)  and  the  conception  of  painting  it 
denoted  were  the  invention  of  Aleksandt  Rodchenko,  who 
wrote  at  the  end  of  1919: 

LINEARISM  is  a  new  tendency  in  non-objective  creative  work. 

The  surface  plane  is,  logically,  being  discarded,  and  so  as  to  express 
greater  constructedness,  architecturalness  in  compositions — and  there 
being  no  further  need  for  it — that  old  favorite  of  paintings,  faktura 
{density},  is  being  discarded,  too.' 

It  is  legitimate  to  wonder  to  what  purpose  it  behooved  him  to 
"discard,"  "discover,"  and  issue  declarations  if  the  sole  result 
was  a  handful  of  colored  or  white  lines  drawn  with  a  brush  over 
a  black  or  colored  ground.  Rodchenko's  own  writings  will 
provide  the  best  answer. 

The  history  of  the  Russian  avant-garde  in  the  1910s  and 
1920s  witnessed  several  fundamental  discoveries  about  form  in 
painting:  the  intersecting  non-objective  brush  strokes, 
resembling  the  patterns  of  frost  on  glass,  of  Mikhail  Larionov, 
promulgator  of  Rayism;  the  Chernyi  kvadrat  (Black  Square,  1915) 
of  Kazimir  Malevich,  inaugurator  of  Suprematism;  the  counter- 
reliefs  of  Vladimir  Tatlin,  fashioned  from  real  rather  than 
trompe  l'oeil  fragments  of  iron,  wood,  glass,  and  wire.  One 
might  say  that  the  last  links  in  this  chain,  in  which  Liubov' 
Popova's  "painterly  architectonics"  also  figured,  were  the 
inventive  semi-engineered  constructions  of  Georgii  and 
Vladimir  Stenberg  and  of  Karl  Ioganson — and  two  cycles  by 
Rodchenko:  the  first,  his  paintings  and  graphic  works 
composed  of  lines  and  points,  and  the  second,  three 
monochromatic  canvases  in  which  the  surface  of  the  painting 
had  already  crossed  into  the  category  of  object.  "Everything  is 
finished.  Primary  colors.  Each  plane  is  a  plane  and  there  need 
be  no  representations."2  A  red,  a  yellow,  and  a  blue  canvas — 
these  are  no  longer  constructions,  not  compositions;  they  are 
the  end  stage  of  the  experimentation  of  an  extreme  innovator. 

Who  saw  a  WALL  .  .  . 


EVERYONE  .  .  .  AND  NO  ONE. 

One  who  had  truly  seen  came  and  simply  showed 

the  square 
This  means  opening  eyes  to  the  surface  plane. ' 

Thus  is  Malevich  described  in  "Kto  my?"  ("Who  Are 
We?"),  the  manifesto  of  the  Constructivists  written  by 
Rodchenko  and  Varvara  Stepanova  in  1921-22.  With  his  Black 
Square,  Malevich  showed  the  surface  plane  to  be  a  reality  in 
painting  and  a  category  of  visual  thinking. 

And  when  in  his  laboratory  one  person  set  up 
the  square, 
His  radio  reached  all  whom  it  behooved  and  whom  it  did  not,  then 
soon,  on  all  the  "ships  of  left  art"  sailing  under  white,  black,  and  red 
flags  .  .  .  everything  utterly,  utterly  everything  was  covered  with 

Rodchenko's  investigations  into  and  analyses  of  non- 
objective  creation  brought  him  to  this  necessity:  the 
declaration  of  the  line  as  the  basis  for  modeling.  "A  new 
apprehension  of  the  world,"  he  noted,  "has  been  elucidated  in 
the  line."5 

Who  saw  an  angle, 

Who  saw  a  framework,  a  plan? 

EVERYONE  .  .  .  AND  NO  ONE. 

One  who  had  truly  seen  came  and  simply  SHOWED 
the  line 


And  when  yesterday  in  his  laboratory  one  person  set  up  the 
line,  the  grid,  and  the  point, 
His  radio  reached  all  whom  it  behooved  and  whom  it  did  not,  then 
soon,  and  especially  on  all  the  "ships  of  left  art"  newly  christened 
"Constructivist,  "  sailing  under  diverse  flags  .  .  .  everything  utterly  .  . 
.  utterly  is  being  constructed  of  lines  and  grids. 

OF  COURSE,  the  square  existed  even  previously,  the  line  and  the  grid 
existed  previously. 

Which  is  the  crux. 


The  square — 191$,  Malevich's  laboratory. 
The  line,  the  grid,  the  point — ipip,  Rodchenko's  laboratory.6 

No  one,  it  may  be,  wrote  about  experimentation  and  the 
laboratories  of  art  with  as  much  ardor  as  Rodchenko.  And  his 
attitude  toward  art  always  embraced  a  desire  to  affirm  his  pride 
of  place,  to  "patent"  the  uniqueness  and  innovation  of  his  every 
new  series.  In  a  draft  "auto-monograph,"  Rodchenko 
enumerated  the  innovatory  services  he  had  rendered,  among 
them  that  "I  introduced  and  proclaimed  the  line  as  an  element 
of  construction  and  as  an  independent  form  in  painting."7 

As  a  painter,  Rodchenko  existed  within  the  philosophical 
space  of  "left"  painting  and  was  connected  to  other  artists  by 
numerous  personal  and  creative  threads.  His  work  is,  in 
addition  to  all  else,  a  reaction  to  what  had  happened  and  was 
happening  in  painting  during  1917-21.  Yet,  as  an  extreme 
innovator  and  inventor,  Rodchenko  was  sui  generis,  and  his 
work  should  be  appraised  according  to  his  own  criteria  of 
innovation,  originality,  technical  mastery,  and  economy  of 
expressive  means.  He  himself  was  cognizant  of  the  obstacles 
should  his  work  be  viewed  from  the  vantage  of  different 
requirements,  criteria,  or  positions.  By  the  very  existence  of  all 
those  lines  and  circles  painted  on  canvas,  he  laid  down  a  new 
criterion  of  judgment. 

It  should  be  recalled  that  Rodchenko  had  announced  two 
previous  conceptions  of  painting — "dynamism  of  the  plane" 
(constructed  conjunctions  of  planes  intersecting  in  space)  and 
"concentration  of  color  and  form"  (compositions  of  floating, 
gleaming  colored  spheres) — in  works  he  displayed  at  his  first 
solo  exhibition  (Moscow,  1918),  the  Fifth  State  Exhibition 
(Moscow,  1919),  and  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition,  Bespredmetnoe 
tvorchestvo  i  suprematizm  (Non-Objective  Creation  and  Suprematism, 
Moscow,  1919).  Rodchenko  conceived  his  new  series,  consisting 
solely  of  lines,  in  August  1919,  in  advance  of  the  Tenth  State 
Exhibition.  Yet,  though  he  had  completed  a  number  of  the 
new  works,  Rodchenko  did  not  exhibit  them.  In  order  to 
proclaim  a  new  movement  in  non-objective  painting,  one  or 
two  works  would  not  suffice;  an  entire  cycle  was  needed,  whose 
size  and  compositional  variety  would  confirm  the  movement  as 
a  new  artistic  program. 

"I  revealed  the  composition  and  the  tying-together  of  the 
canvas  by  means  of  it,"  Rodchenko  wrote  in  his  working  notes.8 
By  the  "tying-together  of  the  canvas"  he  meant  the  filling-up 
of  the  surface  plane,  of  space.  In  each  work,  lines — on  one  or 
another  colored  ground;  wide,  with  shaded  edges,  or  crisp  and 
narrow — form  one  or  another  configuration,  representing,  as  it 
were,  some  event  in  the  life  of  lines.  Now  they  meet  and 
intersect  like  two  streaks  of  cloud;  now,  at  the  point  of 
intersection,  one  line  suddenly  shoots  upward  and  blossoms 
into  filaments;  now  the  lines  turn  on  a  central  pivot  and 
expand  into  space  according  to  the  principle  of  a  hyperbolically 
contracted  surface  plane.  Straight  lines  create  a  stable 
framework;  concentric  closed  curves  recall  the  trajectory  of 
points.  Ordinary  lines,  it  turns  out,  can  be  animated  just  like 
any  other  form — and  no  less  than  the  point. 

/  am  thinking  of  painting  several  circles  for  Linearism  and  also  of 
making  a  linear  sculpture. 

I  think  I'll  exhibit  Linearism  in  June  or  July,  when  there'll  be  no 
fewer  than  30  works  in  oil,  and  maybe  even  50,  for  I've  got  75.  /  must 
also  write  and  print  up  $00  copies  of  a  booklet  on  Linearism.9 

Rodchenko  indeed  intended  to  construct  a  linear  sculpture 
from  wire,  and  had  even  accumulated  a  store  of  small  steel 
rods.  But  he  was  forced  to  abandon  the  venture,  inasmuch  as  it 
would  have  been  a  technically  more  demanding  undertaking 
than  was  his  work  with  cardboard,  paper,  or  oils  (which  were 
always  close  at  hand).  Welding,  or  at  the  very  least  soldering, 
would  have  been  entailed.  At  the  time,  not  only  the  technical 
wherewithal  but  even  space  in  which  to  work  was  hard  to  come 
by  (Rodchenko  and  Stepanova  were  then  living  in  the  quarters 
of  the  Museum  of  Painterly  Culture,  where  Rodchenko  served 
as  director). 

A  mountain  of  work,  but  I'm  quite  drained  by  my  duties  and  the 
exertion  it  now  takes  to  feed  ourselves. 

I'm  resting  my  hopes  on  summer  and  the  warmth  of  the  Sun." 

It  was  only  at  the  Nineteenth  State  Exhibition  (Moscow, 
1920)  that  Rodchenko's  "lines"  were  exhibited.  The  series 
included  paintings  (some  twenty  of  them)  and  graphic  works, 
as  well  as  the  text  "Vse— opyty"  ("Everything  Is  Experiment"), 
whose  typewritten  pages  were  mounted  on  a  wall.  The  text 
explained  why  Rodchenko  did  not  repeat  his  previous 
experiments,  why  each  time  he  fashioned  an  ever  newer  series 
from  new  formal  elements.  His  every  cycle  constituted  a 
certain  new  possibility,  a  certain  new  world,  albeit  one 
consisting  of  planes,  colored  spheres,  or  lines.  Rodchenko 
would  later  effect  the  same  admixture  of  means,  devices,  and 
formal  elements  (circles,  planes,  and  lines)  in  other  areas — in 
architecture,  design,  graphics,  and  advertising. 

It  is  useful  to  view  Rodchenko  in  the  company  of  other 
avant-garde  artists,  that  is,  in  the  same  context  in  which  his 
works  were  displayed  at  the  celebrated  Tenth  State  Exhibition, 
the  Nineteenth  State  Exhibition,  and  $  x  $  =  2j  (Moscow,  1921), 
at  which  last  Rodchenko's  three  monochromatic  canvases  were 
shown.  When  Rodchenko  is  thus  positioned  amid  his 
colleagues,  the  principal  elements  of  his  system  and  his 
uniqueness  are  thrown  into  sharper  relief.  One  can  profit  anew 
from  the  bit  of  advice  offered  by  Rodchenko  in  "Everything  Is 

In  each  work,  I  conduct  a  new  experiment  without  the  advantage  of 
my  past,  and  in  each  work  I  set  a  different  task.  If  you  survey  my 
entire  output  over  all  this  time,  you  will  find  one  enormous  and 
completely  new  work.  If  you  want  to  tack  the  past  on  to  it,  get  yourself 
to  a  museum  and  contemplate  that. " 

— Translated,  from  the  Russian,  by  Jane  Bobko 



i.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  notebook,  1917-20,  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and 
V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 

2.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Rabota  s  Maiakovskim,"  1939, 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 
Published  in  part  in  A.  M.  Rodchenko.  Stat'i,   vospominaniia, 
avtobiograficheskie  zapiski,  pis'ma  (Moscow:  Sovetskii 
khudozhnik,  1982),  pp.  53-82. 

3.  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova,  "Kto  my?,"  1921-22, 
A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 
Published  in  Aleksandr  M.  Rodchenko-Varvara  F.  Stepanova: 
The  Future  Is  Our  Only  Goal,  ed.  Peter  Noever,  trans.  Mathew 
Frost,  Paul  Kremmel,  and  Michael  Robinson,  catalogue  for 
exhibition  organized  by  the  Osterreichisches  Museum  fur 
angewandte  Kunst,  Vienna,  and  the  A.  S.  Pushkin  State 
Museum  of  Fine  Arts,  Moscow  (Munich:  Prestel,  1991), 

pp.  170-72. 

4.  Rodchenko  and  Stepanova,  "Kto  my?" 

5.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Liniia,"  1921,  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and 
V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 

6.  Rodchenko  and  Stepanova,  "Kto  my?" 

7.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Laboratornoe  prokhozhdenie  cherez 
iskusstvo  zhivopisi  i  konstruktivno-prostranstvennye  formy 
k  industrial'noi  initsiative  konstruktivizma,"  1921-22, 

A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 

8.  Rodchenko,  notebook,  1917-20. 

9.  Ibid.  The  text  of  "Liniia"  ("The  Line")  was  completed  in  1921 
and  reproduced  by  hectograph  at  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of 
Artistic  Culture)  in  a  small  number  of  copies.  Published  in 

S.  O.  Khan-Magomedov,  Rodchenko:  The  Complete  Work,  ed. 
Vieri  Quilici,  trans.  Huw  Evans  (Cambridge,  Mass.:  MIT 
Press,  1987),  pp.  292—94;  in  Art  Into  Life:  Russian  Constructivism, 
IPI4-IP32,  catalogue  for  exhibition  organized  by  the  Henry  Art 
Gallery,  University  of  Washington,  Seattle,  the  Walker  Art 
Center,  Minneapolis,  and  the  State  Tret'yakov  Gallery,  Moscow 
(New  York:  Rizzoli,  1990),  pp.  71-73;  and  in  Aleksandr  M. 
Rodchenko-Varvara  F.  Stepanova:  The  Future  Is  Our  Only  Goal, 
PP-  133—35- 

10.  Rodchenko,  notebook,  1917-20. 

11.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Vse-opyty,"  ip2i,  A.  M.  Rodchenko 
and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow.  Published  in  Aleksandr 
M.  Rodchenko-Varvara  F.  Stepanova:  The  Future  Is  Our  Only  Goal, 
pp.  130-32. 


The  Constructivists: 
Modernism  on  the  Way 
to  Modernization 

Hubertus  Gassner 

"In  life,  mankind  is  an  experiment  for  the  future,"  Aleksandr 
Rodchenko  wrote  in  his  "Vse— opyty"  ("Everything  Is 
Experiment,"  1921).'  Now  that  this  future  is  already  past  and 
we  stand  before  the  shambles  of  the  greatest  human 
experiment  in  history,  we  should  take  a  close  look  at  the 
utopianism  of  the  Soviet-Russian  avant-garde.  In  so  doing,  we 
may  gain  a  deeper  insight  into  the  channels  and  links  between 
formal  experiments  in  art  and  social  experiments  with  human 

The  avant-garde's  utopianism  began  not  with  an 
enthusiastic  vision  of  the  future  but  with  a  rather  skeptical 
question:  How  can  one  be  an  artist  in  the  Soviet  Union  of  the 
1920s?  This  question — albeit  in  slightly  modified  form — is 
still  relevant  today,  as  is  the  answer  Constructivism  tried  to 
provide.  Today  the  question  reads:  How  can  one  be  an  artist 
within  a  media  culture? 

The  illusory  (Western)  world  of  mediated  mass 
communication  produced  by  the  art  and  entertainment 
industry  was,  of  course,  unknown  to  the  Soviet  avant-garde 
artists  of  the  1920s.  Yet  some  of  the  communication  strategies 
devised  by  the  Constructivists  anticipated  today's  agony  of 
reality  under  the  impact  of  simulation  technologies.  And  for 
good  reason,  since  what  was  happening  in  Russia  before  their 
eyes  and  under  their  feet — or  rather,  in  their  eyes  and  in  their 
stride — was  no  less  than  a  preliminary  stage  of  the  ongoing 
third,  mass-media,  revolution:  it  was  the  second — the 
industrial — revolution. 

It  had  been  preceded  by  a  two-stage  political  revolution: 
first  the  bourgeois,  democratic  revolution  in  February  1917,  and 
then  the  proletarian,  Communist  revolution  in  October  1917. 
While  it  is  widely  believed,  predominantly  in  the  West,  that 
the  artistic  revolution  locked  arms  with  the  political  revolution 
and  even  operated  as  its  vanguard,  this  essay  will  argue — and,  I 
hope,  demonstrate — that  even  the  avant-garde  artists  of  the 
left  were  entirely  unprepared  when  the  second  wave  of  the 
political  revolution  hit.  Though  they  were  not  caught 
unawares  by  the  quickened  pace  of  history  after  the  first  salvo 
in  February,  the  abrupt  change  of  course  in  October  took  them 
by  surprise. 

Between  the  spring  and  autumn  of  1917  there  are  more 
ruptures  than  there  are  continuities.  It  would  be  wrong  to 
perceive  the  course  of  the  political  revolution,  after  its  swerve 
in  direction,  as  no  more  than  an  accelerated  continuation  of  the 
initial  phase.  And  during  the  1920s  there  were  further  twists, 
sometimes  in  such  rapid  succession  that  artists  occasionally 
stumbled  in  their  race  to  stay  abreast  of  social  change. 
Struggling  to  keep  pace,  the  initially  united  left  front  of  art 
began  to  dissolve.  Groups  or  individual  artists  split  off  and 
embarked  on  divergent  courses.  Others  quit  the  race 
altogether.  Those  who  stayed  the  course  ran  in  clusters,  often 
with  one  or  another  artist  or  theorist  in  the  lead.  Vladimir 
Tatlin  was  perhaps  the  only  solo  runner  among  them. 

The  following  pages  will  discuss  the  evolution  of  both 
individuals  and  groups.  Our  focus  will  be  on  the  breaks 
between  historical  stages  and  on  the  crises  in  art,  since  only  a 
survey  of  the  uneasy  concurrence  of  developments  within  art 
and  outside  art  can  reveal,  and  offer  a  basis  for  evaluating,  the 
context  in  which  Constructivism' emerged  and  grew. 

The  principal  stages  are: 

•The  quest  for  a  new  artistic  identity  in  the  wake  of  the 
February  Revolution,  and  artists'  attempts  at  alliance  so  as 
to  assert  their  role  in  the  new  society 

•The  silence  of  artists  after  the  October  Revolution,  their 
reluctance  to  cooperate  with  the  revolutionary  government, 
and  their  unenthusiastic  alignment  with  the  new  rulers  to 
secure  artistic  autonomy  (1918-19) 


•The  gestation  and  birth  of  Constructivism  at  the  juncture 
of  political  revolution  and  industrial  revolution  (1920—21) 

•The  crisis  of  Constructivism  in  1925-26  and  the 
transformation  of  the  engineer  of  objects  into  the  "engineer 
of  the  psyche" 

To  understand  the  profound  shift  in  consciousness  the 
avant-garde  underwent  in  the  early  1920s,  one  need  only 
examine  the  discussion  at  Inkhuk  (the  Institute  of  Artistic 
Culture),  of  Varvara  Stepanova's  lecture  "O  konstruktivizme" 
("On  Constructivism").  Stepanova's  extremely  rationalist 
discourse  on  an  instrumentalist  concept  of  art  survived  the 
discussion  uncontested:  "Once  purged  of  aesthetic, 
philosophical  and  religious  excrescences,  art  leaves  us  its 
material  foundations,  which  henceforth  will  be  organized  by 
intellectual  production.  The  organizing  principle  is  expedient 
Constructivism,  in  which  technology  and  experimental 
thinking  take  the  place  of  aesthetics."2  What  was  openly  and 
fiercely  disputed  was  the  crucial  question  of  "how  today's 
artists  justify  their  existence"  (Khrakovskii).  Thus  pressured, 
the  artists  responded  with  arguments  ranging  from  the 
circumspect  to  the  virulent:  Boris  Arvatov  proposed  the 
"propagandizing"  of  Russia's  still  "utopian"  industrialization 
through  Constructivism,  in  order  to  establish  a  basis  for  a 
Constructivist  design  of  the  living  environment;  Georgii  and 
Vladimir  Stenberg  polemically  executed  artists  in  general: 
"They  [artists]  are  good  for  nothing.  They  should  be  treated  in 
the  same  way  as  the  Cheka  {secret  police]  treats 
counterrevolutionaries."  Konstantin  Medunetskii's  false 
confidence  ("Art  ends  with  us")  was  present  alongside  an 
acknowledged  sense  of  tragedy  as  art  declared  bankruptcy.  For 
Arvatov,  the  "end  of  culture"  had  come  because  industrial 
techniques  had  supplanted  cultural  techniques.  Inasmuch  as 
artists  were  "useless  to  industry  and  unable  to  be  engineers," 
their  position  was  "tragic." 

Given  this  dire  situation,  more  than  twenty  artists  and 
theorists  within  Inkhuk  decided  on  November  24,  1921,  to 
relinquish  any  self-sufficient  pursuit  of  art  and  to  apply 
themselves  to  the  production  ol  useful  objects.  The 
Constructivist  theorist  Nikolai  Tarabukin  celebrated  this  new 
development  as  a  historic  moment:  "For  the  first  time  in  the 
annals  of  art  history,  painters  have  become  sensitive 
seismographs  of  future  tendencies  by,  in  a  radical  reorientation, 
deliberately  rejecting  their  specific  field  of  work." 

This  was  the  moment  when  Russian  Modernism  abandoned 
all  opposition  to  the  modernization  of  life  effected  by 
industrialization  and  mass  production,  and  began  to  assume 
the  functions  of  oil  and  engine  in  the  machinery  of  progress. 
The  stated  goal  was  no  longer  just  the  reconciliation  of 
consciousness  and  machine  but  the  total  alignment  of  human 
psychophysical  being  to  machine  mechanisms  and  motions. 
Yet  if  the  Constructivists  gave  up  the  resistance  to  self-serving 
or  profit-oriented  technological  progress  that  had  until  then 
characterized  Modernism's  critical  distance  from  a  merely 
market-driven  modernity,  the  decision  was  not  made  with  a 
light  heart.  Nor  was  the  artists'  dropping  of  their  ambivalence 
about  industrial  modernization  a  logical  result  of  developments 
within  art,  as  some  design  historians  claim.  The  evolutionary 
paths  of  Soviet  Constructivism,  marked  by  breaks  and 
historical  contingencies,  hardly  fit  the  streamlined  phylogeny 
of  industrial  design. 

Indeed,  a  closer  analysis  of  Constructivist  production  art 
can  show  how  its  manufacturing  methods  and  products  contain 
a  Utopian  surplus  value  that  transforms  even  the  individual 
utilitarian  object  into  a  pars  pro  toto  of  a  cosmos  harmonically 
structured  by  rhythmic  movements.  This  Utopian  surplus  lends 
these  objects  their  aesthetic  and  ethical  value  and  even  bathes 

them  in  an  aura  of  artistic  autonomy — precisely  the  quality  the 
Constructivists  struggled  to  nullify  on  their  flight  into  bare 

Paradoxes  in  Organizing  Freedom 

After  the  February  Revolution 

The  artistic  avant-garde  began  its  limited  performance  in 
Russian  history  with  the  struggle  for  the  independence  of  art 
from  government  interference.  During  1917— 18,  the  politics  of 
"Futurism" — the  period's  generic  term  for  all  new  trends  from 
post-Cezannism  to  Suprematism  to  Tatlin's  "culture  of 
materials" — had  been  strictly  anti-institutional.  In  the  winter 
of  1918-19,  however,  more  than  a  year  after  the  October 
Revolution,  the  first  attempts  were  made  to  establish  the 
avant-garde,  institutionally  and  ideologically,  as  the  artistic 
spearhead  of  the  Soviet  state.  This  set  the  stage  for  the 
turbulent  misalliance  between  "Futurists"  and  Communists — 
a  story  with  several  chapters  that  would  come  to  an  abrupt  end 
with  the  government-ordained  dissolution  of  all  rival  artists' 
groups  in  1932 

A  preliminary  chapter  in  this  difficult  marriage  of 
autonomous  art  with  government  institutions  opened, 
however,  some  time  before  October  1917.  As  early  as  February 
of  that  year,  following  the  overthrow  of  the  czar  by  the 
bourgeois-democratic  revolution,  the  different  artists'  groups 
began  to  struggle  for  public  influence. 

The  end  of  czarism  not  only  gave  artists  the  freedom  from 
censorship  and  institutional  tutelage  they  had  long  desired — 
the  dictatorial  Imperial  Academy  of  Arts  was  closed,  though 
not  yet  dissolved  for  good,  on  February  23,  1917 — but  offered 
them  an  unrestricted  opportunity  to  form  independent  unions. 
The  topic  most  passionately  debated  among  the  groups  that 
began  to  emerge  in  ever  increasing  numbers,  especially  in 
Petrograd  and  Moscow,  was  the  freedom  of  art  and  the  threat 
posed  to  it  by  proposed  new  government  institutions.  In  the 
course  of  artists'  debates  and  meetings,  the  front  separating  the 
"left"  avant-garde  and  the  "right  wing"  was  soon  clearly 
delineated.  The  rightist  spectrum  ranged  from  members  of  the 
Academy,  Realists,  and  Impressionists  to  the  influential 
representatives  of  Mir  iskusstva  (World  of  Art).  As  these 
groups  struggled  for  public  influence,  the  area  of  contention 
gradually  shifted  from  artistic  rivalries  to  politics,  and  the 
fight  for  "true  art"  degenerated  into  a  quarrel  for  power  that 
would  rage  on  throughout  the  1920s,  often  spurring  on  the 
creativity  of  the  artistic  factions  yet  sometimes  paralyzing  it. 

On  the  initiative  of  Maksim  Gor'kii,  fifty  leading  artists, 
writers,  actors,  and  musicians  met  in  his  Petrograd  apartment 
on  March  4,  1917,  to  establish  a  commission  for  the 
"conservation  and  regulation  of  our  art  institutions  and 
treasures  left  unattended  after  the  abolition  of  the  Imperial 
Ministry."  The  most  active  subsection  of  this  self-proclaimed 
Commission  for  Artistic  Affairs — the  Department  for  the 
Preservation  of  Monuments — was  headed  by  Aleksandr  Benua 
(Alexandre  Benois),  the  traditionalist  painter  and  influential 
art  critic  from  the  World  of  Art  circle.  With  Benua  and  several 
other  members  of  his  group  occupying  leading  positions,  the 
Commission  was  firmly  in  the  hands  of  conservatives.  Other 
commissions  for  the  "future  development  of  art  in  Russia"  were 
also  dominated  by  World  of  Art. 

At  the  Commission's  March  4th  meeting,  Benua  proposed 
the  establishment  of  a  Ministry  of  Fine  Arts  as  an  independent 
affiliate  of  the  existing  Ministry  of  Education.  With  the 
creation  of  such  an  institution,  the  artistic  intelligentsia  would 
have  vested  themselves  with  governmental  powers  to  carry  out 
their  arrogated  function  as  Russia's  cultural  standard-bearers. 
Three  days  later,  on  March  7th,  during  a  meeting  at  the 
Petrograd  Institute  of  Art  History,  Count  Zubov  put  Benua  in 


charge  of  a  commission  for  the  organization  of  the  proposed 
ministry.  The  same  day,  the  press  announced  the  Provisional 
Government's  approval  of  the  planned  ministry.  Benua, 
Nikolai  Rerikh,  and  Sergei  Diaghilev  were  named  as 
prospective  candidates  for  the  ministerial  post. 

The  "Futurists,"  who  regarded  the  planned  ministry  and, 
specifically,  the  hegemonic  claims  of  the  World  of  Art  camp  as 
a  threat  to  their  newly  gained  freedom  from  government 
regimentation,  focused  their  criticism  on  Benua,  who  for  years 
had  been  feuding  with  the  Cubo-Futurists  and  the 
Suprematists.'  But  it  was  not  only  the  "Futurists"  who  fought 
the  ministerial  aspirations  of  their  old  adversary.  To  prevent 
both  the  establishment  of  a  ministry  of  fine  arts  under  Benua 
and  the  official  appointment  of  Gor'kii's  commission  for  the 
preservation  of  monuments,  representatives  of  numerous 
artists'  groups  met  on  March  9  and  10,  1917,  at  the  Academy  of 
Arts  in  Petrograd  to  form  a  Union  of  Art  Workers 
encompassing  all  fields  of  art  (painting,  sculpture,  architecture, 
literature,  theater,  and  music).  The  Union's  mission  was  to 
preserve  the  independence  of  art  from  the  state  and  to  put  the 
functions  assigned  to  the  ministry  in  artists'  hands. 

There  were  1403  artists  in  attendance  at  the  Union's 
assembly  on  March  12th  in  the  Mikhailovskii  Theater. 
According  to  newspaper  reports,  the  entire  artistic  community 
of  Petrograd  was  present. 

Even  though  the  Union's  goal  was  to  combine  groups  of  all 
artistic  directions  in  one  organization  so  as  not  only  to  defend 
its  members'  professional  interests  but  to  embark  on  the 
broadly  based  cultural  renewal  of  Russia,  it  immediately  broke 
up  into  opposing  factions.  Thus  prevented  from  performing 
any  practical,  efficient  work,  the  Union  was  finally  dissolved  in 
the  summer  of  1918.  Among  its  three  factions — the  "right 
bloc,"  under  the  informal  direction  of  the  poet  Fedor  Sologub; 
the  nonpartisan  center;  and  the  "left  bloc" — the  last  was  in  the 
minority.  Yet  the  relatively  small  left  group,  representing  an 
equally  small  vanguard  minority  in  Russian  art,  managed,  as 
the  result  of  its  vigorous  commitment,  to  get  four  of  its  own 
on  the  twelve-member  organizing  committee  in  charge  of 
setting  up  the  Union:  the  poet  Vladimir  Maiakovskii  (as 
representative  of  the  Moscow  artists),  the  painter  Natan 
Al'tman  (as  representative  of  the  groups  Bubnovyi  valet  [Jack 
of  Diamonds]  and  Soiuz  molodezhi  {Union  of  Youth]),  the  art 
critic  Nikolai  Punin,  and  the  director  Vsevolod  Meierkhol'd. 

To  strengthen  their  influence  on  the  assembly,  members  of 
the  left  bloc  published  a  declaration — against  the  planned 
ministry  and  for  the  freedom  of  art  brought  by  the  February 
Revolution — in  the  Menshevik  daily  Den' (The  Day)  and  the 
Bolshevik  Pravda  on  the  day  before  the  meeting:  "The 
revolution  creates  freedom.  Without  freedom  there  is  no  art. 
Democratic  art  is  possible  only  in  a  free  democratic  republic." 
The  proclamation  was  signed  by  the  Freedom  for  Art 
Federation,  whose  twenty-eight  members  included  Al'tman, 
Kseniia  Boguslavskaia,  Lev  Bruni,  Vera  Ermolaeva,  Aleksei 
Grishchenko,  Aleksei  Karev,  Nikolai  Lapshin,  Ivan  Puni, 
Rodchenko,  Eduard  Spandikov,  Tatlin,  Nikolai  Tyrsa, 
Nadezhda  Udal'tsova,  the  critics  Sergei  Isakov  and  Punin,  the 
writers  Bol'shakov  and  Il'ia  Zdanevich,  Meierkhol'd,  and  the 
composer  Artur  Lur'e.  Al'tman,  Punin,  and  Zdanevich  were 
the  Federation's  secretaries. 

On  the  day  of  the  assembly,  the  Federation  published 
another  declaration  in   The  Day,  this  time  protesting  the 
"undemocratic  attempts  by  certain  groups  to  seize  control  of 
cultural  life  through  the  establishment  of  a  Ministry  of  Fine 
Arts."  The  Federation  appealed  to  all  artists  participating  in 
the  Union's  constituent  assembly  to  vote  for  the  Federation's 
own  twelve  candidates  for  the  organizing  committee.  This 
a]  came  in  response  to  the  proposed  nomination  of  only 

two  left  artists,  Al'tman  and  Marc  Chagall,  to  the  committee, 
alongside  a  majority  made  up  of  Realists  and  representatives  of 
World  of  Art. 

While  most  speakers  at  the  assembly  demanded  a  strict 
separation  between  art  and  politics,  the  "Futurists"  did  not 
equate  that  separation  with  art's  complete  abstinence  from 
social  commitment.  Their  call  for  freedom  was  directed  against 
administrative  encroachment  on  artistic  creation  and 
institutional  control  over  artists  and  students. 

With  the  meeting  of  the  Union  of  Art  Workers  adjourned, 
the  left,  following  Meierkhol'd's  suggestion,  held  its  own 
meeting  at  the  Trotskii  Theater  in  Petrograd  on  March  21st. 
After  speeches  by  Maiakovskii,  Zdanevich,  and  numerous 
others,  the  art  critic  Denisov  from  the  left  bloc  presented 
fourteen  theses  "On  the  Activities  of  the  Freedom  for  Art 
Federation."  (Denisov 's  theses  were  separately  published  under 
the  title  "The  Democratization  of  Art:  Theses  on  the  Program 
for  the  [Fundamental]  Union  of  Left  Artists.")  In  order  to 
promote  their  cause,  the  artists  also  took  to  the  streets.  The 
meeting  at  the  Trotskii  Theater  was  accompanied  by  marches 
with  posters  and  banners.  Musicians  and  speakers  appeared  in 
the  streets,  there  were  performances  in  stalls,  and  from  the 
platform  of  a  truck  a  pamphlet  was  distributed  that 
summarized  the  essential  demands  of  the  Federation:  "Freedom 
for  art — abolition  of  government  tutelage.  Complete 
decentralization  of  cultural  life  and  autonomy  for  all 
institutions  and  associations  that  will  be  funded  by  the 
municipal  authorities.  Establishment  of  an  All-Russian  Artists 
Congress.  Abolition  of  all  academies,  which  shall  be  replaced 
by  art  schools  responsible  for  the  training  of  art  teachers. 
Replacement  of  patronage  by  public  support  through  subsidies 
and  grants." 

The  demand  for  the  decentralization  of  art  institutions  and 
for  the  autonomy  of  artistic  creation  was  endorsed  by  numerous 
intellectuals  in  the  Union  of  Art  Workers,  among  them  Sergei 
Makovskii,  the  editor  in  chief  of  the  art  magazine  Apollon 
(Apollo)  who  was  affiliated  with  World  of  Art,  as  well  as  the 
right-wingers  around  Sologub  and  numerous  other  left-of- 
center  artists  and  intellectuals.  Yet  though  they  concurred  with 
the  left  on  many  points,  these  latter  groups,  who  felt  an 
obligation  to  preserve  and  maintain  cultural  treasures  from  the 
past,  considered  it  impossible  to  cooperate  with  the  avant- 
garde  "vandals"  of  the  Freedom  for  Art  Federation.  The 
bourgeois-democratic  revolution  had  only  just  begun,  and 
already  deep  rifts  had  opened  among  the  intellectuals.  The 
different  factions  could  not  find  a  common  denominator  that 
would  have  enabled  them  to  take  even  the  first  practical  steps 
toward  organizing  themselves. 

Infighting  among  rival  artistic  movements  and  personal 
animosity  such  as  that  between  the  "Futurists"  and  Benua  were 
as  much  an  obstacle  to  the  self-organization  of  the  artistic 
intelligentsia  as  was  the  fundamental  conflict  between  the 
champions  of  art's  unconditional  freedom  from  government 
institutions  and  the  "collaborators"  who  wanted  to  entrust  the 
state  with  the  protection  of  monuments  and  artistic  treasures 
and  with  the  organization  of  artistic  education. 

The  struggle  between  the  proponents  of  a  new  ministry  of 
fine  arts  and  the  "autonomists"  Was  only  marginally  about 
participation  in  governmental  power  or  iconoclastic 
destruction  of  traditional  values — these  were  merely  the 
slogans  the  hostile  camps  flung  at  each  other  during  the  Union 
of  Art  Workers'  tumultuous  sessions.  What  was  really  at  stake 
was  the  identity  of  the  artistic  intelligentsia  and  their  role  in 
the  new  society  that  had  emerged  out  of  the  confusion  and 
chaos  of  the  February  Revolution.  The  older  generation  of 
artists,  including  the  members  of  World  of  Art,  held  especially 
fast  to  their  traditional  self-image  as  the  nation's  "upholders  of 


culture."  Accordingly,  they  considered  it  their  mission  to 
preserve  cultural  values  and  to  disseminate  and  anchor  them  by 
educating  the  people.  These  tasks,  they  believed,  could  be 
accomplished  only  if  the  artistic  and  scientific  elite  worked 
closely  with  the  government  apparatus.  For  their  opponents 
from  the  left,  this  cooperation  of  tradition-conscious  art 
specialists  and  government  officials  portended  the 
reestablishment  of  a  cultural  bureaucracy  that  would  organize 
artistic  culture  according  to  its  own  conservative  tastes  and 
manipulate  the  people  by  force-feeding  them  the  obsolete 
values  of  an  outdated  conception  of  art. 

With  their  sights  set  firmly  forward,  the  "Futurists" 
regarded  the  passing  on  of  traditional  values  as  secondary,  if 
not  an  outright  obstacle  to  the  establishment  of  new  values. 
This  stance  was  directly  opposed  to  the  "upholder  of  culture" 
ideal  shared  by  a  majority  of  Russian  intellectuals  but 
shattered  and  buried — with  the  eager  assistance  of  the  left 
avant-garde — in  the  fierce  quarrels  of  the  Union. 

Many  intellectuals  and  artists  had  placed  their  high  hopes 
for  a  "cultural  renewal  of  Russia"  in  the  Union  of  Art  Workers, 
but  with  the  majority  of  members  maneuvering  to  maintain 
their  status  as  "upholders  of  culture"  and  to  use  the 
organization  for  their  own  goals,  the  Union  reached  an 
intellectual  and  operational  deadlock.  At  a  session  on  May  n, 
1917,  Osip  Brik,  the  theorist  and  organizer  of  Opoiaz  (the 
Society  for  the  Study  of  Poetic  Language)  and  later  founder  of 
the  Productivist  movement,  denounced  the  Union  (which  did, 
after  all,  have  over  eight  hundred  nominal  members  from 
almost  all  artistic  groups)  for  its  failure  to  achieve  practical 
results.  Many  of  those  in  attendance  agreed  with  him. 

After  the  October  Revolution 

In  the  tumultuous  months  following  the  February  Revolution, 
the  Union  of  Art  Workers  debacle  revealed  that  artists  and 
intellectuals  were  lost  in  their  attempt  to  determine  their 
position  in  the  new  society.  While  attitudes  toward  tradition 
and  the  new  government  were  markers  of  an  obvious  divide, 
they  were  merely  symptoms  of  the  intelligentsia's  quandary 
without  czarism  as  a  unifying  counterforce  and  of  their 
insecurity  concerning  their  function  in  a  rapidly  changing 

With  the  radicalization  of  the  masses  in  the  summer  of 
1917,  the  crisis  among  artists  and  intellectuals  intensified.  They 
had  to  learn  that  the  "people"  embraced  them  neither  as 
cultural  saviors  nor  as  anything  else.  In  the  months  between 
the  anti-czarist  February  Revolution  and  the  anti-bourgeois 
October  Revolution,  a  growing  number  of  people 
unceremoniously  classified  artists  and  other  intellectuals, 
regardless  of  their  personal  property  or  political  stance,  as 
members  of  the  hated  bourgeoisie.  "Intellectual"  and 
"bourgeois"  became  synonymous  in  the  minds  of  the 
radicalized  masses.  Artists — and  all  the  members  of  the 
intelligentsia — suddenly  saw  themselves  denounced  as  enemies 
of  the  working  class  and  ranked  among  the  "superfluous 
persons"  of  the  detested  past.  The  break  between  the  insurgent 
masses  and  the  intelligentsia  culminated  in  the  October 
Revolution.  The  ousting  of  the  Provisional  Government  and 
the  Bolshevik  takeover  gave  most  intellectuals  outside  the 
radical  leftist  parties  such  a  shock  that  they  remained  silent  for 
several  months  or  passively  boycotted  the  new  rulers. 

Attempts  by  the  People's  Commissar  of  Enlightenment, 
Anatolii  Lunacharskii,  to  establish  contacts  with  the  artistic 
intelligentsia  were  summarily  turned  down  in  the  first  weeks 
and  months  following  the  October  Revolution.  Only  days  after 
the  proclamation  of  the  Soviet  state  on  October  25th,  the 
revolutionary  government  (the  All-Russian  Central  Executive 
Committee)  extended  a  widely  publicized  invitation  to 

Petrograd  artists,  writers,  and  actors  to  come  to  the  Smolnyi 
Institute,  the  new  seat  of  government,  to  discuss  prospective 
cooperation.  A  mere  six  persons  showed  up:  Aleksandr  Blok, 
L.  Reisner,  and  David  Shterenberg,  as  well  as  the  most  active 
members  of  the  Freedom  for  Art  Federation,  Al'tman, 
Maiakovskii,  and  Meierkhol'd.  After  this  failure,  Lunacharskii 
on  November  12th  asked  Punin,  Al'tman's  co-secretary  in 
Freedom  for  Art,  to  mediate  between  the  government  and  the 
Union  of  Art  Workers.  Via  Punin,  he  proposed  the 
establishment  of  a  Department  of  Artistic  Affairs  in  which 
artists  and  government  officials  would  be  equally  represented. 
The  proposal  was  debated  in  the  organizing  committee  and  in 
the  different  factions.  While  the  right  and  moderate  groups 
rejected  any  cooperation  with  the  Bolsheviks  on  political 
grounds,  the  representatives  of  the  left  wing  feared  for  the 
freedom  of  art.  In  a  third  attempt  Lunacharskii  sent  Brik, 
another  active  participant  in  Freedom  for  Art  and  the  left  bloc, 
to  suggest  the  formation  of  a  thirty-member  Commission  for 
the  Preservation  of  Monuments,  to  be  made  up  of  fifteen 
delegates  from  the  Union  and  fifteen  representatives  of 
"democratic"  organizations.  Once  again,  the  membership  as 
well  as  the  organizing  committee  of  the  Union  categorically 
refused,  even  though  the  committee  members  Al'tman,  Punin, 
Maiakovskii,  and  Meierkhol'd  had  previously  not  shied  away 
from  contact  with  the  Soviet  government. 

The  majority  of  speakers  at  the  Union  meeting  objected  to 
the  "Bolsheviks'  seizing  control  over  art,"  while  the  organizing 
committee  blamed  the  Soviet  government  for  having  tolerated 
and  even  promoted  the  destruction  of  artistic  treasures. 
Lunacharskii  himself  had  offered  his  resignation  to  the  Party  in 
mid-November,  because  monuments  and  works  of  art  had  been 
damaged  during  the  storming  of  the  Winter  Palace  and  the 
battles  in  Moscow.  The  Council  of  People's  Commissars  did  not 
accept  his  resignation  and  on  November  17th,  the  day  of  his 
third  offer  to  the  Union,  Lunacharskii  published  his  appeal 
"Protect  the  Property  of  the  People!" 

That  all  factions  of  the  Union  should  have  rejected  even 
limited  cooperation   is  all  the  more  astonishing  in  view  of 
Benua's  collaboration  with  the  Soviet  commissars,  only  one  day 
after  the  storming  of  the  Winter  Palace,  on  a  plan  to  protect 
the  Palace  and  the  Hermitage.  And  as  early  as  November,  the 
Petrograd  Council  of  Workers'  and  Soldiers'  Deputies 
organized  a  Council  on  Museum  Affairs  and  the  Preservation  of 
Artistic  and  Historic  Monuments  under  the  direction  of 
Georgii  Iatmanov.  Benua  and  other  members  of  World  of  Art 
were  among  the  Council's  members. 

With  the  establishment  of  this  Council  by  the  revolutionary 
government,  the  Commission  for  Artistic  Affairs  Gor'kii  had 
formed  in  March  1917  and  dissolved  after  protests  from  the 
Union  on  April  27th  was  essentially  reinstated.  Benua  was  even 
appointed  director  of  the  Hermitage  and,  with  the  help  of  the 
authorities,  gained  considerable  influence  over  the 
reorganization  of  artistic  life  during  the  first  years  after  the 
October  Revolution.  The  Union's  left  faction  as  well  as  some 
right-wing  members  opposed  to  the  earlier  Commission  now 
saw  what  they  had  feared  come  to  pass  under  completely 
different  political  circumstances.  While  the  bourgeois 
Provisional  Government  had  hesitated  to  undermine  the 
Union's  autonomy  by  forcing  an  alliance  with  Gor'kii's 
Commission,  the  Bolshevik  government  acted  against  many 
Union  members'  call  for  self-determination  and  subscribed  to 
the  preservationist  approach  by  appointing  the  Council  on 
Museum  Affairs. 

Anticipating  such  a  move,  the  members  of  the  left  bloc 
took  swift  action.  At  the  Union's  meeting  on  November  17th, 
where  Lunacharskii's  offer  to  establish  a  Commission  for  the 
Preservation  of  Monuments  was  discussed,  they  submitted  a 


resolution  calling  for  the  autonomy  of  artistic  creation  and 
sharply  criticizing  the  commissar's  plans  as  an  attack  on  the 
freedom  of  art,  particularly  avant-garde  art: 

Commissar  Lunacharskii's  appeal  touches  only  vaguely  on  the 
government's  attitude  toward  the  autonomy  of  art;  it  asks  the  present 
left  movement  to  surrender  meekly  to  stale  academicism  and  to  the 
bureaucrats  of  art.  With  this  appeal  to  the  Union  of  Art  Workers, 
Lunacharskii  openly  undermines  the  beginnings  of  the  only  correct  and 
viable  attempt  to  build  our  future  artistic  culture,  as  that  culture  is 
propagated  by  left  tendencies  in  art,  and  hands  over  power  to  the 
backward  and  irresponsible  "custodians"  of  art. 

When  shortly  after  this  resolution  the  Council  on  Museum 
Affairs  was  established,  several  members  of  the  left  bloc 
reconsidered  the  Soviet  government's  earlier  proposal  to 
establish  a  Department  of  Artistic  Affairs — so  that  they  might 
gain  at  least  some  administrative  clout  against  the 
academicians  and  "custodians."  When  on  December  2,  1917, 
the  Petrograd  daily  Nash  vek  (Our  Age)  reported  Lunacharskii's 
renewed  plans  for  the  formation  of  a  Department  of  Proletarian 
Art  within  Narkompros  (the  People's  Commissariat  of 
Enlightenment),  the  Union  of  Art  Workers  responded  with 
protests.  Once  more,  the  Union  stressed  that  only  an 
independent  organization  of  artists  was  competent  to  decide 
cultural  issues.  Nonetheless,  Izo  Narkompros  (the  Department 
of  Fine  Arts  of  Narkompros)  was  officially  formed  on  January 
29,  1918,  with  Shterenberg  as  its  head.  Izo  Narkompros 's  Art 
Board,  which  was  not  organized  until  March,  was  also  chaired 
by  Shterenberg  and  included  two  secretaries  of  the  Freedom  for 
Art  Federation,  Al'tman  and  Punin.  The  other  members  of  the 
board — Karev,  Sergei  Chekhonin,  Aleksandr  Matveev,  Petr 
Vaulin,  and  Iatmanov — represented  more  or  less  traditional 
artistic  tendencies. 

It  was  not  only  the  conservatives  from  the  Union  of  Art 
Workers  who  cried  out  that  art  had  been  "betrayed."  The  left 
bloc  as  well  took  "no  responsibility  for  the  actions  of  the 
persons  in  question" — meaning  Al'tman,  Punin,  and  the  other 
members  of  the  Art  Board.4 

Accusations  and  disclaimers  were  a  predictable  response. 
What  sense  would  it  have  made  to  defend  the  freedom  of  art 
from  government  control  only  to  desist  unceremoniously  once 
the  new  regime  was  in  place?  The  months-long  struggle  of  the 
Freedom  for  Art  Federation  and  the  left  bloc  would  have  been 
pointless — even  if  many  of  the  left  artists,  writers,  and  critics 
sympathized  politically  with  the  Soviet  government. 

Reservations  about  collaborating  with  government 
institutions  of  any  kind  were  not  limited  to  the  Petrograd 
avant-garde.  Seeking  to  extend  the  reach  and  effectiveness  of 
the  Petrograd  Izo  Narkompros,  Al'tman,  Punin,  and  Lur'e 
went  to  Moscow  in  early  April  to  form  an  Art  Board  there.  In 
an  appeal  worded  in  typical  "Futurist"  diction  and  published 
in  the  newspaper  Anarkhiia  (Anarchy)  on  April  9,  1918,  they 
specifically  called  on  "comrades  Maiakovskii  and  Tatlin,"  their 
fellow  members  in  the  Union's  left  bloc,  to  cooperate  with  Izo 

The  left  bloc  had  sent  Tatlin  to  Moscow  on  April  12,  1917, 
as  a  representative  of  the  Union.  His  mission  was  "to  get  in 
touch  with  the  left  Moscow  artists  and  establish  contact  with 
their  organization  or  [if  none  existed]  organize  a  left  bloc."  In 
Moscow,  he  was  elected  chairman  of  the  left  federation  of  the 
Professional  Union  of  Artists  and  Painters,  which  was  formed 
in  the  summer  of  1917  (Rodchenko  was  appointed  secretary). 
As  in  the  Petrograd  Union  of  Art  Workers,  three  factions 
emerged  in  the  Moscow  Professional  Union,  though  this  time 
each  faction  or  federation  had  its  own  chairman  and  secretary 
from  the  outset.  The  right  federation  consisted  of  older 

painters  from  the  Wanderers  movement,  the  center  of  members 
of  World  of  Art,  and  the  left,  or  young,  federation  of  Cubo- 
Futurists,  Suprematists,  and  other  non-objective  artists. 
Establishment  of  the  Professional  Union  was  accompanied  by 
the  first  public  recognition,  from  more  established  quarters,  of 
the  avant-garde.  In  late  1917  the  club  of  the  left  federation 
mounted  an  exhibition  of  Rodchenko's  works;  the  first 
comprehensive  exhibition  of  the  Professional  Union  opened  in 
May  1918. 

Immediately  after  the  October  Revolution,  Tatlin,  like 
many  other  members  of  the  left  bloc,  left  the  Union  of  Art 
Workers  in  Petrograd.  On  November  21st,  the  Moscow 
Professional  Union  elected  him  its  delegate  to  the  Art 
Department  of  the  Moscow  Council  of  Workers'  and  Soldiers' 
Deputies.  By  his  own  description  in  later  years,  Tatlin  thus 
became  one  of  the  first  artists  to  cooperate  with  the  Soviet 
government,  and  it  was  only  natural  that  he  was  appointed 
chairman  of  the  newly-formed  Moscow  Art  Board  in  April 
1918.  Tatlin  remained  in  that  position  until  June  1919  and 
managed  to  secure  the  cooperation  of  important  members  of 
the  avant-garde,  including  Sofia  Dymshits-Tolstaia,  Vasilii 
Kandinskii,  Aleksei  Morgunov,  Kazimir  Malevich,  Rodchenko, 
Wladyskw  Strzemihski,  and  Udal'tsova.  Yet  none  of  these 
artists  spontaneously  decided  to  join  Izo  Narkompros.  It  took 
most  of  them  a  long  time  to  examine  and  clarify  their  own 
attitudes  toward  the  government.  The  anti-institutional  stance 
had  not  yet  disappeared. 

The  Supreme  Ego  of  the  Anarchists 

Tatlin,  like  many  other  avant-garde  artists,  was  politically 
closer  to  the  anarchists  than  to  the  Communist  Bolsheviks.  On 
March  29,  1918,  he  published  an  appeal  in  Anarchy  urging  "all 
my  confederates  ...  to  enter  the  breach  I  made  in  obsolete 
values"  so  that  their  minds  could  "embark  on  the  path  of 

The  artist  wrote  this  appeal  in  response  to  a  "Letter  to  Our 
Comrades,  the  Futurists"  published  four  days  previously  in  the 
same  paper  by  a  certain  Plamen  and  calling  on  the  "Futurists" 
to  put  their  work  in  the  service  of  the  revolution.  The  "Letter" 
criticized  the  nonpolitical  wing  of  the  "Futurists"  who  were 
supposedly  preoccupied  with  decorating  cafes  and  designing 
furniture  for  the  bourgeoisie.  The  writer  was  referring  to  the 
Cafe  Pittoresque,  whose  "Futurist"  interior  had  been  decorated 
in  the  winter  of  1917— 18  by  numerous  artists  including 
Aleksandr  Drevin,  Rodchenko,  Tatlin,  and  Udal'tsova  under 
the  guidance  of  the  painter  and  stage  designer  Georgii  Iakulov. 

The  Cafe  Pittoresque  was  a  milestone  on  the  way  to 
Constructivism.  For  the  first  time,  the  materials  and  formal 
vocabulary  of  the  new  non-objective  art  were  applied  to  and 
synthetically  integrated  in  a  public  space.  Tatlin,  in  his 
response  to  the  "Letter,"  agrees  with  the  anarchist  critics  that 
"the  'Futurists'  are  overly  concerned  with  cafe  society  and 
assorted  embroideries  for  emperors  and  court  ladies"  (the  latter 
probably  an  allusion  to  Ol'ga  Rozanova's  Suprematist 
embroidery  designs  shown  in  December  1917  at  the  Vtoraia 
vystavka  dekorativnogo  iskusstva  [Second  Exhibition  of  Decorative 
Art]  in  Moscow). 

Tatlin  conceded,  nonetheless;  that  there  were  at  the  time  no 
other  public  outlets  for  artists  committed  to  social  change:  "I 
am  waiting  for  well-equipped  artistic  workshops  where  the 
artist's  psychic  machinery  can  be  accordingly  overhauled." 
With  the  creation  of  the  State  Free  Art  Workshops  in  October 
1918,  his  wish  became  a  reality — at  least  in  part,  since  well- 
equipped  these  workshops  were  certainly  not. 

In  his  open  letter,  Plamen  differentiated  between  the 
bourgeois  wing  of  the  "Futurists"  and  the  revolutionary  forces 
in  their  ranks,  namely,  Maiakovskii.  At  the  time  the  poet, 


conceptualise,  and  brilliant  mouthpiece  of  the  avant-garde  still 
strongly  sympathized  with  anarchist  ideas  and  groups.  His 
attitude  was  representative  of  that  of  most  "Futurists"  in  the 
first  months  after  the  October  Revolution,  when  the  political 
anarchists  were  still  tolerated  by  the  Bolsheviks  and  even 
received  limited  support  from  the  party's  left  wing  under 
Nikolai  Bukharin.  After  initial  contacts  with  the  Bolsheviks, 
and  in  particular  with  Lunacharskii,  Maiakovskii  grew 
disenchanted  with  their  traditionalist  cultural  program  and 
left  Petrograd,  soon  after  the  Revolution.  He  went  to  Moscow, 
where  he  and  two  old  friends  from  Cubo-Futurist  days — the 
painter  David  Burliuk  and  the  poet  Vasilii  Kamenskii — 
opened  the  Kafe  poetov  (Poets'  Cafe)  in  Nastas'inskii  Lane. 
"I  remember  the  Kafe  poetov  in  Moscow  in  1918,"  Il'ia 
Erenburg  wrote  in  his  memoirs.  "It  was  patronized  by  a  crowd 
that  did  not  exactly  deal  in  poetry — speculators,  women  of 
doubtful  reputation,  young  people  who  called  themselves 
'Futurists'  ...  It  was  quite  a  peculiar  place." 

The  ideology  of  the  Kafe  poetov  was  suffused  by 
antiauthoritarian  anarchism.  In  accordance  with  the  anarchist 
tilt  in  the  name  of  the  Freedom  for  Art  Federation,  the  three 
artists  of  the  cafe  called  themselves  the  Federation  of  Futurists. 
With  his  two  comrades,  Maiakovskii  published  the  Gazeta 
futuristov  {Futurists'  Newspaper),  in  whose  first  and  only  issue  on 
March  15th  he  declared,  in  an  "Open  Letter  to  the  Workers," 
that  "Futurism"  was  the  aesthetic  counterpart  of 
"socialism/anarchism"  and  that  only  a  "revolution  of  the 
psyche"  could  liberate  workers  from  the  shackles  of  obsolete 
art.  The  collective  declaration  "Decree  No.  1  on  the 
Democratization  of  Art"  pronounced  spontaneous  graffiti  the 
only  legitimate  revolutionary  art: 

/.  In  keeping  with  the  liquidation  of  the  czar is t  regime,  the 
existence  of  art  in  the  depots  and  sheds  of  human  genius — the  palaces, 
galleries,  salons,  libraries,  and  theaters — is  abolished  as  of  now. 

2.  In  the  name  of  progress  and  the  equality  of  all  before  culture,  the 
Free  Word  of  the  creative  personality  shall  be  written  on  the  walls, 
fences,  roofs,  and  streets  of  our  towns  and  cities;  on  the  backs  of 
automobiles,  coaches,  and  trams;  and  on  the  clothes  of  all  citizens. 

The  Russian  Futurists'  painting  of  their  bodies  before  the 
war,  the  graffiti  on  the  walls  of  the  Kafe  poetov,  the  Futurist 
parole  in  liberta — whatever  broke  out  into  the  streets  and 
announced  the  creative  freedom  of  everyone  everywhere  was 
proclaimed  the  Revolution's  true  artistic  form  of  expression. 
Art,  in  Maiakovskii  and  his  friends'  minds,  was  supposed  to  be 
politically  effective  without  submitting  to  the  state.  According 
to  their  credo,  only  free  and  spontaneous  art  could  set  off  the 
"revolution  of  the  psyche"  considered  essential  to  the  social  and 
intellectual  continuation  of  the  political  and  economic 

The  manifestos  in  the  Futurists'  Newspaper  breathed  the  old 
anarchic  spirit  of  the  Freedom  for  Art  Federation.  Only,  the 
combative  tone  had  become  sharper  after  the  October 
Revolution.  The  "Manifesto  of  the  Flying  Federation  of 
Futurists,"  published  in  the  same  paper,  called  on  the 
"proletarians"  to  join  the  "third,  bloodless  but  nonetheless 
cruel,  revolution,  the  revolution  of  the  psyche." 

The  political  anarchists  accepted  the  Futurists'  Newspaper  as 
an  organ  of  anarchism5  and  endorsed  the  House  of  Free  Art 
briefly  operated  by  Maiakovskii,  Burliuk,  and  Kamenskii  as 
one  of  the  anarchist  clubs  in  Moscow.  The  House,  a  restaurant 
requisitioned  for  the  purpose  by  the  trio,  was  dedicated  to  the 
"individual  anarchism  of  creation,"  as  their  paper  put  it.  But 
the  House  of  Free  Art  existed  for  only  a  few  days  and  was 
closed  by  the  end  of  March.  On  April  14th,  the  Kafe  poetov 
was  shut  down  as  well.  Two  days  before,  the  newly-founded 

Cheka  had  carried  out  its  first  raid  in  Moscow:  in  the  anarchist 
clubs  some  six  hundred  people  had  been  arrested  and  forced  to 
hand  over  their  arms.  Feliks  Dzerzhinskii,  the  head  of  the 
Cheka,  announced  that  the  majority  of  those  rounded  up  were 
criminals  and  only  one  percent  were  "ideological  anarchists."6 
It  is  not  clear  whether  the  closing  of  the  Kafe  poetov  was  a 
direct  consequence  of  this  police  action.  The  coincidence  of 
events,  however,  signals  the  end  of  a  distinctly  anarchistic 
phase  in  both  the  political  revolution  and  the  history  of 
Russian  "Futurism"  (even  though  the  political  anarchists  were 
not  quite  neutralized  until  1920). 

The  fundamental  opposition  between  the  Bolsheviks  and 
the  anarchists,  who  had  broad  support  among  the  Russian 
peasants  and  workers,  lay  in  their  attitudes  toward  the  state. 
The  anarchists  categorically  rejected  the  state  as  the  ruling 
classes'  instrument  of  oppression.  The  Bolsheviks,  by  contrast, 
considered  it  necessary  to  maintain  the  state  throughout  the 
transition  from  capitalism  to  Communism,  even  though  the 
bourgeois  form  of  the  state  had  to  be  "broken  up"  during  the 
revolution.  "We  need  a  revolutionary  government, "  Lenin  wrote 
in  March  1919  in  his  "Letter  from  Afar."  "For  a  certain 
transitional  period  we  need  the  state.  That  is  what  distinguishes 
us  from  the  anarchists.  The  difference  between  revolutionary 
Marxists  and  anarchists  is  not  only  that  the  former  believe  in 
centralized,  Communist  production  on  a  large  scale  and  the 
latter  in  industrial  scatteration.  No,  the  difference  vis-a-vis 
government,  vis-a-vis  the  state,  is  that  we  are  for  exploiting  the 
revolutionary  forms  of  the  state  in  the  fight  for  socialism 
whereas  they  are  against  it." 

Given  Maiakovskii 's  anarchistic  stance,  it  seems  logical  that 
he  first  rejected  Al'tman,  Punin,  and  Lur'e's  offer  to  cooperate 
with  the  Moscow  Art  Board  of  Izo  Narkompros.  The 
federalism  and  "individual  anarchism  of  creation"  promoted  by 
him,  Burliuk,  and  Kamenskii  and  the  state  socialists'  principle 
of  centralism  and  large-scale  production  ruled  each  other  out. 
Only  after  a  long  period  of  hesitancy  and  under  changed 
political  circumstances   would  he  finally  decide,  in  the  winter 
of  1918,  to  join  Brik  and  collaborate  with  Izo  Narkompros.  For 
the  moment,  he  continued  to  advocate  the  separation  of  state 
and  art  as  proclaimed  by  the  Freedom  for  Art  Federation  and 
the  Futurists'  Newspaper. 

Being  closer  to  anarchism  than  to  Bolshevism  or 
Communism,  other  members  of  the  Federation  also  continued 
to  cling  to  this  principle  after  the  October  Revolution. 
Morgunov,  Rodchenko,  and  Tatlin  at  one  time  or  another  all 
worked  in  the  Activist  Group  of  the  Moscow  Association  of 
Anarchist  Groups.  On  April  2,  1918,  Anarchy  published  the 
following  salute  to  Rodchenko  and  others  among  the  future 
Constructivists:  "With  pride  we  look  upon  your  creative 
rebellion.  We  congratulate  the  creator  Rozanova  on  her 
impressive  compositions  of  lively  colors.  We  congratulate  the 
creator  Udal'tsova  on  her  savage  non-objective  oil  paintings. 
We  congratulate  the  creator  Rodchenko  on  his  spirited  three- 
dimensional  constructions  of  colored  forms  ..." 

The  fiercest  of  all  the  blasts  of  anarchist  fervor  gusted  from 
the  articles  Malevich  regularly  wrote  for  Anarchy  from  March 
to  July  1918.  Inspired  by  revolutionary  events,  the  artist  for  the 
first  time  used  the  medium  of  writing  to  develop  and  expand 
his  Suprematist  conception  of  art  into  a  conception  of  the 
world.  The  artistic  principle  of  non-objectivity  served  him  as  a 
starting  point  for  a  nihilistic  ontology  which  negated  material 
reality  as  well  as  any  form  of  state.  In  a  tone  of  acerbic  sarcasm, 
Malevich  tackled  the  official  art  policy  of  the  new  ruling 
powers.  He  rebuffed  Al'tman,  Punin,  and  Lur'e  on  their  visit  to 
Moscow  with  a  taunting  polemic  entitled  "On  the  Arrival  of 
Voltairean  Terrorists  from  Petersburg.""  While  he  did  not 
consider  them  capable  of  deposing  Benua,  his  objections  were 


of  a  more  fundamental  nature:  "The  appointment  of  kings, 
ministers,  or  soldiers  of  art  is  just  as  much  an  act  of  artistic 
counterrevolution  as  the  opening  of  a  cafe  of  any  kind," 
Malevich  wrote  with  a  view  to  the  anarchist  criticism  of  the 
Cafe  Pittoresque.  "Whenever  a  state  is  being  built,  a  prison 
will  be  erected  once  the  state  is  there."  Therefore  the 
revolution  must  "destroy  all  foundations  of  the  old  so  that 
states  will  not  rise  from  the  ashes." 

In  keeping  with  the  anarchist  principle  of  individualism, 
Malevich  declared  "our  ego"  to  be  "supreme."  In  his  argument, 
the  supremacy  of  the  ego  can  only  be  realized  by  liberating  it 
from  the  shackles  of  the  state  and  material  objects.  The 
revolution  of  the  psyche  through  "individual  anarchic  creation" 
proclaimed  by  the  Futurists'  Newspaper  was  also  on  Malevich's 
mind  when  he  promoted  anarchism:  "The  banner  of  anarchism 
is  the  banner  of  our  ego  and  like  a  free  wind  our  spirit  will 
billow  our  creative  work  through  the  vast  spaces  of  our  soul."8 

Speaking  for  the  Suprematist  group — which  at  the  time 
included  Morgunov,  Liubov'  Popova,  Rodchenko,  Rozanova, 
Udal'tsova,  and  Aleksandr  Vesnin  as  well  as  the  anarchist 
radical  Aleksei  Gan — Malevich  used  Lenin's  dictum  of  the 
"breaking  up"  of  the  state  as  an  analogy  for  the  withering  away 
of  material  reality:  "Our  creative  work  elevates  neither  palaces 
nor  hovels,  neither  velvet  gowns  nor  coarse  clothes,  neither 
songs  nor  words  .  .  .  Like  a  new  planet  in  the  blue  dome  over 
the  sunken  sun,  we  are  the  frontier  to  an  absolutely  new  world, 
and  we  declare  all  things  nonexistent.'"'  Consequently  Malevich 
at  that  point  rejected  any  practical  application  of  Suprematism 
for  the  poor  or  for  the  rich.  Involvement  in  a  government 
institution  such  as  Izo  Narkompros  was  anathema  to  him  for 
the  same  reason.  A  year  after  Al'tman  and  Punin's  appeal,  in 
1919,  Malevich  was  finally  willing  to  ease  his  stance  toward  the 
state.  By  that  time,  the  more  cooperative  "Futurists"  in  Izo 
Narkompros  had  already  attained  many  of  their  goals.  The 
Freedom  for  Art  Federation's  old  demand  for  the  abolition  of 
the  Imperial  Academy  of  Fine   Arts  had  been  fulfilled  on  April 
12,  1918.  In  October  of  the  same  year  it  was  replaced  by  the 
State  Free  Art  Workshops,  established  first  in  Moscow  and 
Petrograd  and  later  throughout  the  country.  The  workshops 
were  free  not  only  in  terms  of  free  access  for  all  students, 
regardless  of  their  prior  education,  but  also  because  the  student 
body  was  free  to  elect  its  own  teachers.  Malevich  taught  at  the 
State  Free  Art  Workshops  in  Moscow  until  the  autumn  of  1919, 
when  he  joined  the  Popular  Art  School  in  Vitebsk  and  began  to 
organize  Unovis  (the  Affirmers  of  the  New  Art). 

The  organization  of  State  Exhibitions  also  lay  in  the 
jurisdiction  of  Izo  Narkompros.  Al'tman  and  the  other 
vanguard  artists  in  Izo  Narkompros  took  full  advantage  of  this 
to  introduce  their  comrades-in-art  to  the  broad  public  in 
numerous  solo  and  group  exhibitions,  thus  promoting  the 
notion  of  their  leading  role.  In  addition,  Izo  Narkompros 
organized  extensive  open  exhibitions  sponsored  by  the  state 
but,  in  the  absence  of  a  selection  committee,  virtually  beyond 
its  artistic  arbitration.  Following  these  principles  of  funding 
and  selection,  the  organizers  achieved  their  own  earlier 
demands  that  art  be  free  but  at  the  same  time  subsidized  by 
the  state. 

As  early  as  December  1918,  the  members  of  Izo  Narkompros 
began  establishing  museums  of  a  new  type,  the  so-called 
museums  of  artistic  culture.  Created  all  over  the  country,  they 
were  endowed  with  important  avant-garde  works.  Among  their 
most  active  organizers  after  1919  were  Kandinskii,  Malevich, 
Rodchenko,  and  Tatlin.  Under  its  avant-garde  leadership,  the 
Museum  Department  of  Izo  Narkompros  succeeded  in 
establishing  thirty-six  museums  of  contemporary  art;  another 
twenty-six  were  in  the  planning  stage  when  the  department 
was  dissolved  in  1921.  As  Rodchenko,  the  head  of  the  Moscow 

Museum  Department,  remarked  with  some  satisfaction,  "the 
department  generously  supplied  the  provinces  with 
contemporary  art,  an  achievement  unprecedented  in  the  world 
and  an  advance  over  the  West  the  commune  can  rightly  be 
proud  of."10 

With  the  formation  of  Izo  Narkompros  and  the  continuous 
expansion  of  its  staff  through  the  involvement  of  almost  all 
important  avant-garde  artists,  a  rather  contradictory  situation 
emerged  that  would  last  for  a  brief  two  and  a  half  years  and 
prove  extremely  fruitful  for  the  development  of  the  artistic 
avant-garde.  Artists  who  were  largely  hostile  to  the  state, 
ideologically  indebted  to  anarchism,  and  committed  to  the 
spiritual  and  organizational  freedom  of  artistic  creation  had 
found  an  institutional  vehicle  to  introduce  their  art  to  the 
masses  in  art  schools,  exhibitions,  and  museums  funded  by  the 
state.  And  yet,  despite  this  favorable  position,  the  new 
tendencies  in  art  were  unable  to  gain  broader  acceptance  either 
among  the  public  or  within  the  Party  and  the  administration. 
They  were  tolerated,  however,  if  only  for  a  short  time. 

Immediately  after  the  February  Revolution,  spontaneously 
formed  artists'  groups  such  as  Join  the  Revolution! — with 
Brik,  Bruni,  Ermolaeva,  Mikhail  Le-Dantiu,  Lur'e, 
Maiakovskii,  Meierkhol'd,  Tatlin,  Dymshits-Tolstaia,  and 
Viktor  Shklovskii  as  members — had  signaled  their  willingness 
to  write  and  design  catchy,  expressive  posters,  banners,  and 
manifestos  for  the  "comrades."  Publishing  appeals  and  their 
telephone  numbers,  the  artists'  groups  offered  their  services.  It 
is  unknown  whether  the  revolutionary  political  forces  took 
them  up  on  their  offer. 

After  the  October  Revolution,  Malevich  won  the 
competition  for  decorations  for  the  Congress  of  Committees  on 
Rural  Poverty.  He  created  a  Suprematist  cover  design  for  the 
delegates'  document  folder  (plate  nos.  123—125)  and  decorated 
the  assembly  hall  of  the  Winter  Palace  with  Suprematist 
shapes.  With  Mikhail  Matiushin,  he  painted  a  huge,  900-foot- 
wide  canvas  within  twenty-four  hours.  He  designed  speaker's 
rostrums  (plate  no.  130)  and,  with  El  Lissitzky,  curtains  (plate 
no.  136)  for  the  1919  meeting  in  Vitebsk  of  the  Committee  to 
Abolish  Unemployment.  Lissitzky  gave  an  account  of  his  and 
Malevich's  joint  activities  in  his  1922  lecture  on  "New  Russian 
Art":  "In  Vitebsk  we  painted  a  16,000-square-foot  canvas  for  a 
factory  celebration,  decorated  three  buildings,  and  created  the 
stage  decorations  for  the  festive  meeting  of  the  factory 
committee  in  the  city  theater."  It  is  safe  to  assume  that  neither 
the  representatives  of  the  rural  poor  nor  the  delegates  of  the 
unemployed  were  fully  aware  or  appreciative  of  Malevich's 
intended  color  symbolism:  the  black  square  stood  for  the 
economy,  the  red  square  for  the  Revolution,  and  the  white 
square  for  pure  action — and  together  they  symbolized  the 
anarchistic  "revolution  of  the  psyche."  It  was  Malevich's 
intention  that  not  only  Suprematist  painting  but  also  the  "new 
style  of  Suprematist  decoration"  would  "expel  the  integrity  of 
the  object  from  consciousness,"  as  he  put  it  in  the  catalogue  of 
the  Tenth  State  Exhibition,  Bespredmetnoe  tvorcbestvo  i 
suprematizm  {Non-Objective  Creation  and  Suprematism,  Moscow, 
1919).  Suprematist  murals  and  interior  decorations  were  meant 
to  testify  to  the  fall  of  objective  reality  and  the  dawning  of 
purely  spiritual  action.  The  delegates,  however,  probably 
perceived  them  as  stimulating  and  lively  decorative  patterns. 

The  fight  against  the  material  monuments  of  the  past  was 
also  at  the  heart  of  what  was  probably  the  most  spectacular 
decoration  of  a  public  space  in  the  years  immediately  following 
the  October  Revolution — Al'tman's  huge  panels  for  the 
Classical  and  Baroque  fagades  and  passages  onto  Palace  Square 
in  Petrograd  (plate  nos.  103-106)  and  his  cladding  of  the 
Aleksandr  Column  on  the  same  square.  The  bright  red,  yellow, 
and  orange  flames  licking  at  the  column  as  a  symbol  of  the 


overthrow  of  the  czarist  regime  drove  home  their  message  of 
the  destruction  of  the  old  world  in  a  far  more  direct  and 
convincing  fashion  than  the  symbolically  overcharged 
Suprematist  decorations.  A  contemporary  reviewer  pointed  out 
the  artistic  merits  of  Al'tman's  design: 

A  nearly  exemplary  solution  of  this  task  was  demonstrated  on  the 
square  with  the  designs  of  the  artist  Al'tman.  The  juxtaposition  of  old 
and  new  artistic  elements  is  surprising,  convincing,  and  perfectly 
unified.  The  artist  does  not  try  to  outdo  the  old  masters  but.  with 
unerring  instinct,  creates  something  entirely  new  and  contrasting.  The 
square  in  front  of  the  Winter  Palace  is  strictly  architectonic  and 
Al'tman  complements  it  with  purely  painterly  impressions:  the  square 
is  symmetrical  and  harmoniously  self-contained — Al'tman  aims  at 
mordancy,  surprising  effects,  and  peculiarities:  the  square  is 
beautifully  rounded  in  space — everything  about  Al'tman's  design  is 
planar,  angular,  and  dynamic." 

The  revolutionary  message  of  Al'tman's  Cubo-Futurist 
construction  is  not  expressed  in  its  formal  vocabulary  and  color 
symbolism  alone,  nor  is  it  a  mere  illustration  of  a  given  slogan 
or  idea.  The  spiritual  flame  of  the  Revolution  and  the  appeal 
for  renewal  are  brought  to  life  only  in  their  visual  contrast  to 
the  stone  monuments  to  Imperial  traditions. 

Al'tman's  contextually  anchored,  incendiary  work  remained 
an  exception  among  the  Suprematist  and  other  non-objective 
contributions  to  the  revolutionary  celebrations.  Unlike  the 
more  traditionalist  and  politically  conservative  artists,  the 
representatives  of  these  vanguard  movements  took  part  only 
sporadically  in  the  extensive  programs  for  the  festive 
decoration  of  public  spaces  initiated  by  the  state.  In  one 
instance,  Gustav  Klutsis  along  with  other  young  artists 
executed  a  design  by  Kliun  for  the  first  anniversary  of  the 
October  Revolution,  painting  the  branches  of  the  bushes  on 
Moscow's  Teatral'naia  Square  and  in  the  Aleksandr  Garden 
along  the  Kremlin  wall  a  bright  blue  and  wrapping  the  trees  in 
silvery  gauze.  In  1920,  Il'ia  Chashnik,  Nikolai  Suetin,  and 
Lissitzky  helped  Malevich  paint  Suprematist  designs  on 
building  decorations  and  curtains  in  Vitebsk.  The  same  year, 
posters  with  Suprematist  designs  appeared  in  the  streets  of 
Smolensk;  and  in  Kiev,  Aleksandr  Tyshler,  Kozineva-Erenburg, 
Isaak  Rabinovich,  and  Shifrin — all  of  them  students  of 
Aleksandra  Ekster's — covered  the  sides  of  agitprop  boats  with 
Suprematist  compositions.  Yet  the  majority  of  the  Suprematists 
and  future  Constructivists  probably  agreed  with  Lissitzky 
when,  immediately  after  his  extensive  decoration  work  for  the 
1920  celebration  of  May  1st  in  Vitebsk,  he  wrote  that  the  artist 
did  not  have  to  earn  "authorization  to  work  creatively  ...  by 
painting  the  prescribed  posters  and  implementing  all  the  other 
orders" — even  though  this  kind  of  work  numbered  among  "his 
duties  as  a  member  of  the  commune." 

If  avant-garde  artists  participated  in  the  design  of  posters, 
banners,  or  whole  buildings,  squares,  and  bridges,  they 
obviously  did  so  out  of  a  sense  of  duty  rather  than  inner 
conviction  or  desire — and  extra  rations  of  food  or  clothes  were 
certainly  a  further  incentive.  On  the  other  hand,  their 
contributions  seldom  met  with  much  enthusiasm  on  the  part 
of  their  patrons  in  the  administration  and  the  Party.  In  these 
quarters,  figurative  representations  found  much  more  willing 
takers,  with  allegorical  figures  favored  even  over  realistic  ones. 
As  early  as  1919,  the  Moscow  Soviet  publicly  objected  to  the 
participation  of  the  "Futurists"  in  the  decoration  of  the 
revolutionary  celebrations.  At  the  beginning  of  the  same  year, 
Rodchenko  and  Stepanova  wrote  their  defiant  "Manifesto  of  the 
Suprematists  and  Non-Objectivists"  against  the  philistines  on 
the  left  and  on  the  right: 

Emphatically  we  praise  the  Revolution  as  the  only  motor  of 
life.  .  .  You  small-minded  materialists — be  off  with  you!  We  salute 
all  you  comrades  who  are  fighting  for  the  new  ideas  in  art .  .  .  We 
painted  our  furious  canvases  amid  the  jeers  and  laughter  of  the 
bureaucrats  and  petit  bourgeois  who  have  fled.  Now  we  repeat  to  the 
so-called  proletariat  of  former  servants  of  the  monarchy  and 
intellectuals  who  have  taken  their  place:  We  will  not  give  in  to  you.  In 
twenty  years,  the  Soviet  Republic  will  be  proud  of  these  paintings. 

It  would  take  several  more  decades  before  this  prophecy 
came  true.  But  their  dominating  position  in  Izo  Narkompros 
allowed  the  Suprematists  and  non-objectivists  to  circumvent 
the  apparatchiks  for  a  time  and  to  use  the  financial  and 
organizational  means  of  the  state  to  mount  several  large-scale 
exhibitions  of  their  art,  to  purchase  it  for  the  collections  of 
their  newly  established  museums  of  artistic  culture,  and  to 
disseminate  it  over  the  entire  country. 

The  Work  of  Art  as  a  "Thing"— A  Way  out  of 
the  Crisis? 

During  the  planning  phase  of  the  museums  of  artistic  culture, 
the  concept  of  the  work  of  art  as  apredmet  (object)  or  veshch' 
(thing)  appeared  for  the  first  time.  The  introduction  of  this 
concept  into  the  discussion  about  the  form  and  function  of  art 
within  the  new  social  framework  initiated  a  radical  re- 
evaluation  of  the  set  of  ideas  traditionally  defining  "art."  Out 
of  this  reorientation,  Constructivism  was  born. 

On  November  24,  1918,  Izo  Narkompros  organized  a 
conference  at  the  Palace  of  the  Arts  (as  the  Winter  Palace  had 
been  renamed)  in  Petrograd.  The  meeting  was  to  debate 
whether  art  was  "A  Temple  or  a  Factory"  and  its  list  of  speakers 
included  Lunacharskii,  Punin,  Brik,  and  Maiakovskii.  Iskusstvo 
kommuny  (Art  of  the  Commune)  covered  the  event  in  its  premiere 
issue.  In  his  speech,  Punin  distinguished  between  the  activity 
of  the  bourgeois  artist,  who  merely  designed  ornaments  and 
decorations,  and  the  activity  of  the  worker,  who  treated 
"material"  to  create  "things."  Punin  expected  a  "new  era  in  art" 
if  the  artists  followed  the  lead  of  the  workers  and  began  to 
produce  "things."  He  strongly  objected  to  the  decoration  of  the 
streets  for  the  revolutionary  celebrations,  since  art  thus 
employed  regressed  to  bourgeois  embellishment  instead  of 
rising  to  the  level  of  industrial  production. 

According  to  Punin,  the  goal  of  "an  autonomous  proletarian 
art  .  .  .  is  not  a  matter  of  decoration  but  of  the  creation  of  new 
artistic  objects.  Art  for  the  proletariat  is  not  a  sacred  temple  for 
lazy  contemplation  but  work,  a  factory,  producing  artistic 
objects  for  everyone."'1  He  was  aware  that  this  conception  of 
the  artistic  creation  as  a  "thing"  introduced  a  new  paradigm, 
which  has  claimed  validity  to  the  present  day. 

In  his  speech,  Punin  did  not  yet  differentiate  between  the 
terms  "object"  and  "thing."  Familiar  with  Tatlin's  work  for 
years  and  inspired  by  his  counter-reliefs,  Punin  in  his  plea  for 
the  object  implicitly  criticized  Malevich,  Tatlin's  great 
adversary,  for  his  promotion  of  bespredmetnost' (non-objectivity). 
It  should  be  noted  that  the  Russian  word  predmet  means 
material  entities  in  general,  while  veshch' denotes  a  thing 
produced  by  human  hands.  "Thing"  in  conventional  Russian 
usage  hence  connotes  an  artistically  made  object. 

By  1919  the  critic  had  come  to  regard  the  non-objectivity  of 
Suprematism  as  obsolete:  the  future  of  modern  art  was  in 
Tatlin's  "culture  of  materials."  Although  Punin,  reporting  in 
1919  on  a  visit  to  Moscow,  could  write  that  "Suprematism  has 
blossomed  out  in  splendid  colour  .  .  .  Posters,  exhibitions, 
cafes — all  is  Suprematism,""  he  maintained  that  at  the  peak  of 
its  success  Suprematism  had  already  lost  its  creative  value.  As 
art  it  was  merely  decorative,  perfectly  suited  for  the  bourgeois 
function  of  embellishment  "in  textile  designs,  in  cafes,  in 


fashion  drawings"  and  hence  hopelessly  mired  in  the  past. 
Seeing  Suprematism  in  such  "flagrant  opposition  to  form  as  the 
principle  of  the  new  artistic  era,"  Punin  praised  Tatlin's  culture 
of  materials  as  "the  only  creative  force  free  enough  to  lead  art 
out  of  the  trenches  of  the  old  positions."  The  day  would  come 
when  no  one  but  art  teachers  would  find  interest  in 
Suprematism,  while  Tatlin's  works  would  emerge  as  the  sole 
legitimate  "new  form." 

Others  shared  Punin's  views.  Right  from  the  outset,  Art  of 
the  Commune  endorsed  the  concept  of  the  artistic  "thing"  in  its 
theoretical  essays  on  art  and  aesthetics.  This  concept  launched  a 
sweeping  transformation  of  the  traditional  notion  of  art  as  an 
expression  of  feelings,  emotions,  moods,  or  ideas.  The 
magazine's  first  issue,  on  December  7,  1918,  published  on  its 
front  page  Brik's  programmatic  article  "Drenazh  iskusstvu" 
("A  Drain  for  Art").  Siding  with  Punin,  Brik  defined  artistic 
works  as  "things"  and,  by  using  the  word  veshch',  switched  the 
critical  focus  from  the  non-objective  art  of  Suprematism  to  all 
artistic  efforts  that  visualized  emotions  or  ideas  instead  of 
shaping  material  "things." 

Brik's  slogan  at  the  time — "Not  idealistic  fog  but  the 
material  thing!" — reflects  demands  which  were  in  fact 
prevalent  among  workers  and  insurgents  after  the  February 
Revolution.  They  expressed  the  disdain  the  revolutionary 
proletarians  and  peasants  felt  for  the  Russian  intellectuals  and 
artists.  Erenburg's  memoirs  record  the  writer  Aleksei  Tolstoi's 
summary  of  the  conversations  during  the  summer  of  1917: 
"Will  we  go  to  the  dogs  or  won't  we?  Will  Russia  be  or  will  it 
not  be?  Will  they  slaughter  the  intellectuals  or  will  they  leave 
us  alive?" 

Devastated  by  war  and  food  shortages,  the  hungry  masses 
denounced  intellectuals  and  artists  as  "parasites"  who  had  no 
right  to  exist  because  they  produced  no  material  values  but 
only  ideas — and  therefore  did  not  work  at  all.  As  early  as  June 
1917,  the  intellectual  leader  of  the  right  bloc  within  the  Union 
of  Art  Workers,  Sologub,  countered  these  attacks  with  the 
argument  that  the  Russian  intelligentsia  belonged  neither  to 
the  bourgeoisie  nor  the  proletariat  but  constituted  a  third  class 
of  its  own.  Artists  and  intellectuals  produced  no  material 
values  as  did  the  proletariat,  yet  unlike  the  bourgeoisie  they 
did  not  create  "merchandise  [tovar]  but  ideas  and  forms."'4  The 
prevailing  anti-intellectualism  increased  in  the  months 
following  the  October  Revolution.  As  the  situation  worsened 
because  of  hunger  and  cold,  the  verbal  attacks  escalated  into 
physical  assaults.  In  the  winter  of  1917,  the  few  liberal 
publications  that  still  existed  reported  a  regular  "crusade" 
against  the  intelligentsia,  a  great  majority  of  whom  considered 
themselves  on  the  side  of  the  people  in  the  fight  against 
czarism.  The  standard  question  Russian  artists  and  intellectuals 
had  asked  themselves  since  the  nineteenth  century — "What  is 
the  intelligentsia?" — underwent  a  dramatic  revision  as  the 
intelligentsia's  very  right  to  exist  was  cast  into  doubt.  The 
writers  of  Art  of  the  Commune  provided  a  pragmatic  answer:  they 
argued  that  in  the  new  state  artists  had  a  right  to  exist  only  if 
they  became  specialists  in  the  production  of  certain  "things" 
and  thereby  voided  the  accusation  of  being  parasitic  fabricators 
of  immaterial  goods. 

While  Brik  and  Punin  introduced  the  concept  of  the 
"thing"  into  the  discussion  of  the  future  of  art,  the  notion  had 
figured  first  in  the  debates  about  the  further  existence  or 
nonexistence  of  the  intelligentsia.  On  March  31,  1918,  Russian 
writers  organized  a  large  conference  in  Petrograd  that  focused 
on  "The  Tragedy  of  the  Intelligentsia."  Picking  up  Sologub's 
distinction  between  the  proletarian  "producers  of  things"  and 
the  intellectual  "producers  of  ideas,"  the  speakers  agreed  that 
the  prerevolutionary  intelligentsia  had  made  a  fatal  mistake  by 
concentrating  on  the  social  and  educational  sector  and 

neglecting  the  technological  and  industrial  field.  The 
idealization  of  the  "people"  and  the  desire  to  serve  them  had 
caused  the  intellectuals'  uselessness  in  all  practical  matters  and 
brought  about  their  present  "tragedy."'s  As  in  the  Union  of  Art 
Workers  after  the  February  Revolution,  so  now  there  were 
demands  for  autonomous  professional  organizations  and  greater 
public  recognition  of  the  value  of  intellectual  and  artistic  work. 
In  return  for  their  autonomy,  the  artists  and  intellectuals  were 
called  upon  to  show  greater  professionalism  in  dealing  with  their 
specific  material.  Instead  of  their  genuine  but  often  idealistic 
or  romanticizing  commitment  to  the  people,  an  increased 
discipline  in  their  actual  professional  work  was  required. 

These  arguments  essentially  reiterated  the  critique  of  the 
populist  but  often  dilettantish  intellectuals  of  the  old  type  and 
the  demand — put  forth  as  early  as  1909  in  a  volume  of  essays 
entitled  Vekhi  (Guideposts) — for  a  new,  technically  qualified 
intelligentsia.  Fiercely  debated  when  it  was  published,  the 
book  attacked  the  separate  course  the  Russian  intelligentsia 
had  taken.  Proceeding  from  an  astute  analysis  and  a  polemical 
indictment  of  their  hallowed  principles,  the  authors  demanded 
that  Russians  follow  the  example  of  the  scientific, 
technological,  and  artistic  intelligentsia  of  the  West  and  adopt 
their  "objective  values,"  specialized  knowledge,  and 
professional  institutions.  "The  average  intellectual  in  Russia 
neither  likes  nor  understands  his  job,"  Aleksandr  Itsgoev  wrote 
in  Guideposts.  "He  considers  his  profession  something 
accidental  and  insignificant  that  does  not  deserve  great  respect. 
If  he  loves  his  profession  and  invests  all  his  energy  in  it,  he  can 
expect  some  contemptuous  sarcasm  from  his  comrades,  be  they 
genuine  revolutionaries  or  just  worthless  phrasemongers.  But 
real  influence  on  the  populace,  a  great  specific  weight  in 
today's  life,  can  only  be  reached  with  sound  and  solid 

Ten  years  later,  the  situation  of  intellectuals  and  artists  had 
not  changed  much.  Significantly,  it  was  the  fledgling 
proletarian  intelligentsia  that  provided  the  first  catalyst  for  a 
reorientation.  By  1918,  Gor'kii  would  write  in  the  journal 
Novaia  zhizn '  (New  Life): 

The  cultural  vanguard  among  the  working  class  is  beginning  to  see 
how  important  it  is  for  workers  to  acquire  scientific  and  technical 
knowledge  .  .  .  This  appreciation  of  knowledge  and  work  is  new  in 
Russia;  it  becomes  apparent  in  the  facts  workers  and  union  members 
cited  in  their  memoranda  urging  the  establishment  of  institutes  for 
several  industries  including  the  ceramics,  glass,  and  porcelain 
industries.  It  is  quite  characteristic  that  it  was  the  workers  who 
pointed  out  the  necessity  to  quickly  develop  the  handicrafts  industry. '" 

The  Constructivist  theory  of  "production  art"  reacted  to 
these  stimuli  from  the  proletarian  intelligentsia  by  trying  to 
synthesize  artistic  creation  and  crafts  on  a  higher,  i.e., 
industrial,  level  of  productivity.  For  the  implementation  of  this 
synthesis,  artists  and  craftsmen  alike  had  to  rely  on  the 
scientific  and  technological  advancement  of  their  methods, 
tools,  and  materials. 

To  early  Productivist  theorists  such  as  Brik,  Boris  Kushner, 
and  Punin,  this  "reification"  of  works  of  art  seemed  to  be  the 
only  rescue  for  art  and  artists.  The  strategies  they  developed  to 
redefine  the  function  of  artists  after  the  October  Revolution 
undoubtedly  laid  the  foundations  for  Constructivism.  Yet  it 
took  another  two  years  before  the  new  concept  of  art  sketched 
out  in  Art  of  the  Commune  and  the  developments  within  avant- 
garde  art  began  to  mesh.  When  in  December  1921  the  artists  at 
Inkhuk  approved  Brik's  proposal  to  end  artistic 
experimentation  and  take  up  industrial  production,  it  was  the 
result  of  a  long  and  complicated  process  of  rapprochement 
between  theoretical  concepts  and  non-objective  art.  Even  if 


neither  side  could  claim  leadership  in  this  mutual  process,  the 
artists'  permanent  self-examination  and  the  extreme 
intellectualization  of  their  creative  work  between  1918  and  1921 
point  toward  the  dominance  of  theorizing  in  the  formation  of 

"Professionalism,"  a  word  chosen  no  doubt  in  deference  to 
the  technical  specialists  of  the  West,  became  a  key  term  in  the 
budding  Constructivists'  efforts  to  redefine  the  role  and 
function  of  artists  and  thereby  to  overcome  their  existential 
crisis.  In  texts  written  between  1918  and  1921,  first  Brik  and 
Kushner  and  then  Rodchenko,  Stepanova,  Gan,  Arvatov,  the 
Stenberg  brothers,  Medunetskii,  and  Karl  Ioganson 
persistently  stressed  the  necessity  of  abolishing  artistic  instinct 
in  favor  of  a  professional  approach — based  on  appropriate 
methods  of  technical  manufacture  and  construction — to  the 
artistic  materials  of  color  and  form.  On  the  other  hand,  Tatlin 
as  well  as  Malevich,  Lissitzky,  and  the  members  of  Unovis 
categorically  rejected  this  rationalization  of  the  creative  process 
and  defended  the  importance  of  intuition  in  the  choice  and 
treatment  of  materials.  It  was  this  disagreement  about  the  role 
of  intuition  that  accounted  for  the  artists'  differing  attitudes 
toward  technology.  Neither  Tatlin  nor  Unovis  was  generally 
opposed  to  the  artistic  use  of  technological  tools  and  materials. 
But  unlike  the  Constructivists  at  Inkhuk,  they  rejected  the 
mechanization  of  creative  methods  and  the  reduction  of  the 
creative  process  to  rational  operations. 

The  rationalization  of  the  creative  process  and  its  subjection 
to  instrumentalist  principles  were  the  result  of  discussions 
held  at  Inkhuk  between  January  and  April  1921.  The 
discussions  dealt  with  the  artistic  relationship  between 
composition  and  construction,  the  one  being  defined  as 
unconscious  intuition,  the  other  as  deliberate  methodical 
calculation  during  the  shaping  of  an  aesthetic  product.  Before 
1921,  such  methodological  and  technological  terms  and  ideas 
had  played  a  minor  role,  if  any.  Before  the  First  Working 
Group  of  Constructivists  of  Inkhuk  was  formed  in  March  1921, 
and  before  the  artists  around  Rodchenko  began  their  close 
cooperation  with  the  theorist  Gan,  artistic  intuition  was 
appreciated  rather  than  denounced,  and  if  technical  issues  were 
discussed,  they  were  issues  of  painting  technique.  There  is  a 
difference  between  art  historians  like  Punin  or  linguists  like 
Brik  or  Shklovskii  analyzing  the  materials  and  methods  by 
which  a  given  work  of  art  is  made,  and  artists  and  theorists 
translating  this  analytical  approach  of  the  Formalist  school  into 
practical  instructions  for  the  methodical  construction  of  new 
works  or  "objects."  For  better  or  for  worse,  the  scientific 
character  and  rationality  of  methods  for  analyzing  art  were 
transformed  into  rationalist,  scientific  methods  of  constructing 
art.  Inkhuk,  an  association  of  Formalist  academics,  cultural 
theorists,  and  artists,  was  ideally  suited  for  plotting  this  new 
course,  which  turned  analytical  methods  into  production 
methods  and  expanded  them  into  a  sociological  theory  of  the 
artist's  role  in  society. 

While  the  theorists  provided  the  language  of 
Constructivism  as  early  as  1918,  Constructivism  itself  did  not 
emerge  until  1921,  with  artists  tentatively  probing  what  was  for 
them  uncharted  ground.  If  Rodchenko  in  his  programmatic 
essay  "Liniia  ("The  Line,"  1921)  described  the  development 
from  the  figurative  "picture"  to  the  faktura-determlned 
"objects"  of  color  painting  to  the  colorless,  non-faktura  line 
construction  as  a  logical  and  conscious  progression,  it  was  due 
more  to  the  artist's  rationalizing  hindsight  than  to  the  actual 
process  of  decision  making  during  that  dramatic  period.  His 
teleological  reconstruction  is,  however,  understandable  when 
one  recalls  that  the  essay  was  commissioned  by  the  Inkhuk 
director,  Brik,  and  was  meant  to  demonstrate  the  evolution 
that  led  to  Constructivism  and  its  creation  of  "objects." 

In  what  was  essentially  an  account  of  his  own  development 
over  the  previous  three  years,  Rodchenko  concluded  that  the 
treatment  of  paint  as  an  autonomous  expressive  medium  had 
led  to  a  "painterliness": 

The  painterly  approach  was  created,  and  the  picture  ceased  to  exist 
as  such,  becoming  either  a  painting  or  an  object .  .  . 

Thus  an  element  that  appears  arbitrary  rose  to  lasting  preeminence 
because  it  uas  the  very  essence  of  painting,  it  was  professionalism  in 
painting. '' 

Professional  creation  in  this  sense  means  the  conscious, 
rationally  calculated  production  of  nonsymbolic  objects,  not 
the  intuitive  composition  of  paintings.  By  1921,  the  time  for 
"arbitrary"  discoveries  of  new  materials,  methods,  or 
techniques  was  apparently  over.  Intuition  had  been  replaced  by 
precise  methods  of  construction  and  experimentally  planned 

The  Art  of  the  Commune  writers — particularly  Brik,  Punin, 
and  Kushner — added  a  sociological  element  to  these  arguments 
for  professionalizing  artistic  creation.  Unlike  the  old 
intelligentsia,  who  had  emphasized  artists'  political,  moral,  and 
pedagogical  commitment  to  the  uneducated  and 
disenfranchised  peasants  and  workers,  the  new  theorists 
stressed  artists'  professional  and  technical  skills,  which  were 
needed  in  the  proletarian  society — their  practical  expertise, 
which  essentially  put  them  on  one  level  with  the  workers. 

Brik  coined  the  term  "artist-proletarian"  to  express  this  new 
conception  of  the  artist's  role.  It  is  interesting  to  compare 
Brik's  texts  with  the  notes  Rodchenko  made  in  April  1918, 
probably  as  an  outline  for  an  appeal  of  the  left  federation  of  the 
Professional  Union  of  Artists  and  Painters.  His  manifesto  "To 
the  Artist-Proletarians"  describes  the  avant-garde  artist  as  a 
"proletarian  of  the  paintbrush"  and  an  oppressed  "creator- 
martyr":  "We,  who  are  in  a  worse  situation  than  the  oppressed 
workers,  are  workers  for  our  livelihood  as  well  as  creators  of  art. 
We,  who  live  in  holes,  have  neither  paint  nor  light  nor  time  for 
creating.  Proletarians  of  the  paintbrush,  we  must  unite,  must 
establish  a  Free  Association  of  Oppressed  Artists,  must  demand 
bread  and  studios  and  our  existential  rights." 

In  contrast  to  this  view  of  the  artist  as  a  subproletarian  who 
is  joined  with  the  revolutionary  proletariat  in  poverty  but  not 
in  his  professional  work,  Brik's  definition  of  the  "artist- 
proletarian,"  formulated  six  months  later,  presents  the  artist  in 
his  positive  future  incarnation.  In  the  interval  between  these 
two  definitions,  the  anarchist  phase  of  the  Revolution  ended, 
Lenin  declared  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat,  and  the 
Bolshevik  Party  took  total  control  of  the  state. 

These  political  changes  were  reflected  in  the  shifting 
meaning  of  the  term  "artist-proletarian."  Writing  in  1918,  Brik 
asks  who  will  create  the  "art  of  the  future"  or  "proletarian 
art."'8  He  rejects  the  slogan  "art  for  the  proletariat"  as  well  as 
the  Proletkul't  (Proletarian  Culture)  motto  "art  by  the 
proletariat."  The  first  slogan,  Brik  believes,  is  still  mired  in  the 
old  "consumerist  thinking"  since  it  simply  replaces  the 
bourgeois  private  patron  with  a  proletarian  "mass  patron," 
without  changing  the  role  of  the  artist  as  merely  a  talented 
entertainer.  Brik  also  denounces  the  Proletkul't  idea  that 
proletarian  art  can  only  be  created  by  proletarians,  illustrating 
his  point  with  a  reference  to  the  Proletkul't  studios  where  this 
approach  has  generated  "not  proletarian  works  but  untalented 
parodies  of  outworn  art  forms  of  the  past."  He  concludes: 
"proletarian  art  is  neither  'art  for  the  proletariat'  nor  'art  by  the 
proletariat'.  It  is  art  by  artist-proletarians.  They  and  they  alone 
will  create  the  art  of  the  future." 

But  what  distinguishes  the  "artist-proletarian"  from  the 
bourgeois  artist?  Brik  names  two  essential  criteria.  While  the 


bourgeois  artist  considers  creation  "his  own  private  affair"  and 
produces  works  of  art  "to  enhance  his  ego,"  the  proletarian 
artist  creates  in  order  to  fulfill  "a  socially  important  task" 
within  the  "collective."  While  the  bourgeois  artist  seeks  to 
please  the  masses,  the  proletarian  artist  "fights  against  their 
stubbornness  and  leads  them  in  directions  that  will  steadfastly 
advance  art."  Instead  of  repeating  "stereotypes  of  the  past,"  the 
artist-proletarian  produces  "ever  new  things"  like  an  inventor 
in  a  field  all  his  own. 

In  another  article,  Brik  elaborates  on  several  points  of  his 
concept  of  the  proletarian  artist."'  First  he  gives  an  in-depth 
criticism  of  Proletkul't.  The  "confusion  of  the  the  terms 
'workers'  culture'  and  'proletarian  culture'"  has  led  Proletkul't 
to  adopt  "long-outdated  forms  of  petit-bourgeois  Romanticism 
with  its  cheap  heroism  and  vulgar  folkishness."  The  "artist- 
proletarian,"  by  contrast,  will  not  express  the  will  of  the 
proletariat  the  way  the  bourgeois  artist  used  to  express  his  own 
ego  but  fulfill  the  tasks  set  by  society  with  a  high  degree  of 
professionalism,  because:  "You  can't  'express'  the  will  of  other 
people,  you  can  only  'execute'  it."  For  all  practical  purposes 
that  means  expressive  art,  be  it  collective  or  subjective,  has  to 
give  way  to  the  functional  execution  of  the  "social  task"  in  the 
appropriate  medium.  In  addition,  Brik  stresses  that 
"organization"  is  an  "essential  element  of  the  proletarian 
movement"  and  must  therefore  also  determine  the  work  of  the 
"artist-proletarian."  (Brik's  demand  for  artistic  "organization" 
and  his  closing  sentence — "We  .  .  .  demand  the  unconditional 
implementation  of  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat  in  all 
fields  of  cultural  development" — read  like  an  echo  of  Lenin's 
April  1918  article,  "The  Immediate  Tasks  of  the  Soviet 
Government,"  which  called  for  '"harmonious  organization'  and 
dictatorship.")  2° 

The  term  "artist-proletarian"  underwent  several 
metamorphoses  over  the  next  few  years.  During  the  formative 
phase  of  Constructivism,  around  1921,  it  became  "artist- 
constructor,"  and  in  1922,  when  the  Constructivists  shifted 
from  "pure"  constructions  to  the  production  of  utilitarian 
objects,  they  settled  on  "artist-engineer."  Whatever  the  exact 
expression,  the  concept  behind  it  is  that  originally  defined  by 
Brik.  It  can  be  summarized  as  follows: 

•Professionalism  instead  of  dilettantism 

•Material  and  professional  execution  of  socially  important 

tasks  instead  of  symbolic  expression  of  the  subjective  ego  or 

the  collective  will  of  the  proletarian  masses 
•Production  of  ever  new  forms  to  fight  against  the  taste 

stereotypes  of  the  unenlightened  masses 
•Methodical  organization  of  artistic  creation 

Elaborated  during  the  first  year  after  the  October  Revolution 
as  a  defense  of  artistic  production,  these  criteria  remained  valid 
Constructivist  guidelines  throughout  the  1920s.  Yet  although 
they  proved  fruitful  in  the  beginning,  they  carried  the  seeds  of 
their  own  destruction.  The  basic  contradiction  between  artistic 
autonomy  through  professionalism,  innovation,  and  the 
rejection  of  expressive  art,  on  the  one  hand,  and  the 
employment  of  art  as  an  instrument  for  implementing  social 
tasks  and  organizing  life,  on  the  other,  could  be  an  open  and 
productive  one  only  as  long  as  its  dialectic  balance  was  not 
upset  by  external  political  forces.  By  1930  at  the  latest,  the 
scale  had  tipped. 

Brik's  line  of  reasoning  managed  to  combine  the  Formalist 
school's  demand  for  the  autonomy  of  artistic  creation,  the  anti- 
intellectual  ism  of  the  masses,  and  the  Communist  Party's 
demand  for  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat — albeit  in  a 
precarious  and  unstable  synthesis. 

Throughour  the  1920s,  the  theoretical  unity  of  the  two 

contradictory  propositions  had  to  be  constantly  restored  by 
word  and  action.  The  numerous  manifestos  and  programs 
formulated  by  the  Constructivists  during  this  period  as  well  as 
the  formation  of  groups  such  as  Komfut  (the  Communists- 
Futurists),  Lef  (the  Left  Front  of  the  Arts),  Novyi  Lef  (New 
Lef)>  or  October  testify  to  the  attempt  to  resolve  or  at  least  to 
bridge  the  intrinsic  conflict. 

Even  if  the  balance  among  artistic  autonomy,  functional 
design,  and  Party  discipline  was  frequently  threatened  in  these 
years,  it  broke  down  only  after  1930,  when  autonomy  was 
subordinated  to  function  and  function  was  defined  by   the 

The  Museum  of  Painterly  Culture — A  Museum 
of  Objects 

In  the  discussion  about  establishing  new  museums  of  artistic 
culture,  the  categories  "object,"  "professionalism"  of  artistic 
creation,  and  "perfection"  were  developed  and  defined  in  the 
sense  of  an  evolution  of  material  treatment  and  introduced 
to  a  wider  circle  of  artists.  The  original  plan  for  the  museums 
was  formulated  and  proposed  in  July  1918  by  Tatlin.  His 
proposal  still  breathed  the  spirit  of  the  Freedom  for  Art 
Federation,  emphasizing  the  artists'  autonomy  in  organizing 
the  museums  and  selecting  their  collections.  The  museums 
were  supposed  to  be  institutions  of  "art  and  education  for  the 
masses."  Tatlin  described  Izo  Narkompros  as  "the  only  forum 
competent  to  .  .  .  create  a  museum  of  contemporary,  living  art" 
and  assigned  it  the  task  of  independently  compiling  a  list  of 
artists  who  would  be  represented  in  the  museums.  The  selected 
artists  would  then  determine  which  of  their  works  should  go  to 
the  museums. 

Malevich  commented  on  the  artistic  policy  for  the  planned 
museums  in  Art  of  the  Commune."  In  his  usual  anarchistic, 
"Futurist"  tone,  he  sounded  off  against  tradition  and 
convention,  demanding  that  only  the  most  recent  art  be 
exhibited.  Sharply  attacking  Benua  and  his  Council  on 
Museum  Affairs,  Malevich  called  on  all  the  "living"  to  "break 
off  their  friendship"  with  the  "conservatives"  and  be  "as 
ruthless  as  life  itself,"  since  that  was  the  only  way  "creative 
life"  could  grow. 

Malevich  envisioned  the  museum  as  a  working  research 
laboratory  for  artists  rather  than  an  exhibition  space  for  passive 
viewing  pleasure:  "Instead  of  collecting  all  kinds  of  old  trash,  it 
is  necessary  to  create  laboratories  for  a  global  creative- 
development  machine  whose  arbors  will  not  turn  out  dead 
representations  of  objects  but  artists  of  living  forms  .  .  .  We 
will  produce  I-beams,  the  electricity  and  light  of  colors." 

Izo  Narkompros 's  Declaration  on  Principles  of  Museum 
Administration  was  approved  by  the  Art  Board  on  February  7, 
1919.  It  stressed  the  expertise  of  artists  and  the  autonomy  of  the 
planned  institution,  stating:  "Artists,  as  those  solely  competent 
in  matters  of  contemporary  art  and  as  the  forces  who  create 
artistic  values,  alone  may  oversee  acquisitions  of  contemporary 
art  and  guide  the  artistic  education  of  the  country."22  The 
declaration  ended  with  an  appeal  to  renew  art  by 
professionalizing  it:  "Artists!  Unite  in  the  fight  for  your 
professional  culture  of  the  future  and  against  the  oppressive 
fetishism  of  the  past."  And  at  the  museum  conference  convened 
in  Petrograd  on  February  II,  1919,  the  concept  of  artistic 
culture  was  endorsed.  The  conference  speakers  included  Punin 
and  Brik  (who  in  "A  Drain  for  Art"  had  already  proclaimed  the 
museum  an  exhibition  and  testing  site  of  real  "things.") 

Punin  and  Brik's  concept  of  art  as  "professional  culture"  for 
the  creation  of  "real  things"  did  not  show  its  full  impact  until 
Rodchenko  began  endorsing  it.  As  we  learn  from  Stepanova's 
diary,  on  March  27,  1919,  Brik  met  with  Rodchenko,  then  the 
secretary  of  the  left  federation  of  the  Professional  Union  of 


Artists  and  Painters,  to  discuss  the  future  cooperation  of  Izo 
Narkompros  and  the  Professional  Union  in  creating  the 
museums  of  artistic  culture.  It  was,  apparently,  the  first 
encounter  between  the  theorist  of  "production  art"  and  the 
much  younger  artist,  who  one  month  later  would  make  his 
spectacular  debut  at  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition  and  soon  after 
that  emerge  as  the  ideological  leader  of  the  Moscow  avant- 
garde  artists.  During  their  first  meeting,  Brik  asked 
Rodchenko  to  present  the  left  federation's  ideas  to  Izo 
Narkompros  in  order  to  clarify  the  terms  for  a  joint 
organization  of  the  new  museums. 

Rodchenko,  whose  thoughts  were  written  down  by 
Stepanova  after  Brik's  visit,  posited  a  fundamental  difference 
between  Russian  and  Western  painting  and  wanted  the  new 
museum  to  emphasize  the  independence  and  peculiarities  of 
Russian  painting.  According  to  Rodchenko,  Western  painting 
is  synthetic,  whereas  Russian  painting,  with  its  origin  in  the 
icon,  is  "decorative  and  analytical."  In  icons  as  well  as 
signboards  and  the  boldly  colored  lubok  (illustrated  broadside) 
and,  finally,  Suprematist  and  non-objective  paintings,  the 
surface  plane  is  an  autonomous  expressive  element:  "This  great 
decorative  color-resplendent  element  is  the  prime  mover  of 
Russian  painting,  which  we  do  not  value,  do  not  know."2' 
Rodchenko  suggested  a  selection  and  arrangement  of  works  for 
the  new  museum  that  would  present  the  autonomous  evolution 
of  Russian  painting — culminating,  of  course,  in  the  avant- 

Rodchenko  was  probably  the  first  to  propose  an 
evolutionary  display  of  art  museum  exhibits,  an  idea  that  was 
picked  up  in  the  1920s  in  Western  Europe  and  America  and  has 
since  determined  the  way  works  are  selected  and  arranged  in 
museums  of  contemporary  art  all  over  the  world.  The  notion  of 
a  logical  development  still  informs  our  image  of  the  history  of 
modern  art,  even  if  it  has  long  been  recognized  as  an  artificial, 
streamlined  reconstruction  of  the  true  historical  course  of 
events — a  myth  created  by  the  avant-garde  to  legitimize  its 
own  claim  of  being  the  ultimate  destination  of  art  history. 

Yet  the  more  radical  aspects  of  Rodchenko's  program  never 
really  caught  on.  In  contrast  to  the  principles  of  selection  and 
arrangement  that  have  since  become  common,  his  plan  rejected 
the  separation  between  "high"  and  "low"  art  and  called  for 
non-chronological  juxtapositions.  Quite  contrary  to  the 
hierarchic  classification  of  art  that  had  been  introduced  in  West 
European  museums  around  1900  and  became  standard  policy  in 
the  1920s,  Rodchenko  had  no  intention  of  banishing  "inferior" 
art  from  the  museum  in  order  to  elevate  the  tastes  of  the 
visitors.  His  plan  put  icons  next  to  coarsely  and  brightly 
painted  tin  signboards,  and  mass-produced  broadsides  next  to 
the  Cubist  or  Suprematist  works  of  professional  painters. 
Rodchenko's  selection  criteria  reflected  not  the  stylistic 
standards  of  ostensibly  objective  art  historians  but  a  painters 
professional  interest  in  the  employment  and  treatment  of  his 
material  in  the  history  of  painting.  In  this  context, 
considerations  of  genre  or  medium  were  as  irrelevant  as  moral 
valuations  of  "high"  and  "low." 

Faktura — The  Tangible  Things 

The  name  chosen  for  the  new  museum  in  Moscow — the 
Museum  of  Painterly  Culture — indicates  its  founders' 
conceptual  position.  They  conceived  of  pictures  as  products  of  a 
cultural  activity,  painting,  which  in  turn  was  considered  a 
specialized  method  of  treating  paint.  While  outlining  his 
views  on  the  museum,  Rodchenko  was  also  preparing  the 
Tenth  State  Exhibition,  which  opened  on  April  27,  1919 — the 
first  group  exhibition  in  history  dedicated  exclusively  to  non- 
objective  art.  In  this  momentous  exhibition,  Malevich  showed 
his  metaphysical  white-on-white  paintings  for  the  first  time. 

Rodchenko,  on  the  other  hand,  exhibited  a  series  of  black-on- 
black  paintings  (for  example,  plate  nos.  237,  240).  Amazement 
and  admiration  among  his  fellow  artists  ran  high.  A  few  days 
before  the  opening  of  the  show,  Stepanova  wrote  in  her  diary: 

His  black  paintings  are  actually  the  rage  of  the  season.  With  these 
works,  he  has  shown  what  faktura  is  .  .  .  No  one  else  has  achieved  such 
variety  and  depth. 

The  absorption  of  painting  in  itself  as  a  professional  element.  A 
new.  interesting  faktura,  and  exclusively  painting,  i.e..  no  'coloring 
but  employment  of  the  most  unyielding  color,  black  .  .  .  In  the  'black' 
works  nothing  besides  painting  exists.  That  is  why  their  faktura  is  so 
immensely  enhanced .  .  .  Those  shining,  matte,  muddy,  uneven,  and 
smooth  parts  of  the  surface  result  in  an  extraordinarily  powerful 
composition.  They  are  so  effectively  painted  that  they  are  in  no  way 
inferior  to  colors. 

In  the  black  paintings,  paint  has  ceased  to  figure  as  color  or 
value;  it  is  solely  the  treatment  of  its  material  substance  that 
counts.  Consequently,  the  finished  work  represents  nothing 
and  expresses  nothing.  Its  artistic  value  springs  solely  from  the 
variety  of  its  surface  effects  and  its  very  novelty.  The  concept  of 
professionalism  is  precisely  defined  in  these  paintings: 
professional  work  means  "absorption  of  painting  in  itself," 
i.e.,  in  its  specific  material  and  methods — paint  and  the 
treatment  of  paint  with  the  objective  of  making  its  physical 
qualities  visible  and  palpable.  The  result  is  a  richly  diverse 
surface — a  fascinating  "object"  without  any  depth  of  meaning 
or  emotion. 

The  black  faktura  paintings  were  a  smashing  success  with 
the  Moscow  artists.  On  April  29,  1919,  two  days  after  the 
exhibition  opened,  Stepanova  wrote  in  her  diary:  "Anti 
[Rodchenko]  has  scored  an  amazing  success  .  .  .  He  has  stunned 
everyone  with  his  masterly  skills,  his  faktura.  and  people  see 
him  in  a  completely  different  light  now."  In  the  wake  of  this 
success,  Rodchenko  became  the  leading  figure  among  the 
Moscow  avant-garde  innovators,  the  chief  Constructivist,  and 
the  quintessential  production  artist. 

But  not  only  painters  embraced  Rodchenko's  black  canvases 
as  a  seminal  innovation.  The  works  also  stirred  the  interest  of 
Brik.  The  opening  of  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition  initiated  a 
close  interaction  between  artistic  practice  and  aesthetic  theory 
which  helped  determine  the  further  development  from  faktura 
painting  to  Constructivism  and  from  the  Constructivist 
laboratory  experiments  to  Productivist  art  and  factographic 
photomontage  and  photography.  In  Rodchenko,  Brik 
apparently  found  the  incarnation  of  his  artist-proletarian  who 
professionally  produced  objects  instead  of  ideas.  Stepanova,  in 
any  event,  noted  that  at  the  exhibition  Brik  was  "completely 
taken  with  Anti."  Rather  reserved  during  his  visit  with 
Rodchenko  one  month  earlier,  the  magisterial  Brik  was  now 
"quite  jovial  and  said  that  because  of  Rodchenko,  Malevich  was 
finally  passe  .  .  .  The  black  paintings  simply  astonished  him." 

What  was  it  that  astonished  the  theorist  so  much?  Despite 
his  limited  oeuvre,  Brik  was  valued  as  a  crucial  innovative  force 
among  the  Formalist  linguists  as  well  as  the  Constructivists. 
The  Russian  concept  of faktura  had  been  introduced  into 
aesthetic  discourse  as  early  as  1912  by  David  Burliuk  and 
Vladimir  Markov  (Waldemars  Matvejs)  and  had  since  become 
one  of  the  most  important  categories  in  the  "Futurist"  theories 
of  art  and  literature.  From  the  beginning,  faktura  had  denoted 
the  visible  and  palpable  result  of  the  physical  treatment  of 
material.  Faktura.  as  the  critical  element  in  the  progress  of  art 
and  the  professionalization  of  the  artist,  was  a  recurring 
leitmotif  in  the  manifestos  and  statements  of  Russian  artists 
before  1920.  In  1919,  when  Rodchenko  was  painting  his  black 
canvases,  faktura  once  again  became  the  center  of  attention, 


while  Suprematism,  with  it  temporarily  predominant  its  anti- 
faktura  agenda,  had  been  losing  some  ground  since  1915. 
"Faktura  is  the  essence  of  the  painterly  surface,"  Popova  wrote 
in  her  statement  for  the  catalogue  of  the  Tenth  State 

The  linguists  of  the  Formalist  school,  too,  made  faktura  the 
dominant  artistic  standard.  In  his  1919  "Futurizm" 
("Futurism"),  Roman  Jakobson  defined  works  of  art  as  objects 
that  were  autonomous  through  their  faktura:  "A  clearly 
perceptible  faktura  needs  no  further  justification;  it  becomes 
autonomous  and  requires  new  methods  of  design  and  new 
materials;  the  picture  is  pasted  over  with  paper  or  sprinkled 
with  sand.  Finally,  the  use  of  cardboard,  wood,  sheet  metal, 
etc.,  has  become  common."24  Concurring  with  the  artists  and 
his  fellow  Opoiaz  members,  Shklovskii  defined  faktura  as  the 
essential  characteristic  of  art  in  general  in  his  article  "O  fakture 
i  kontr-rel'efakh"  ("On  Faktura  and  Counter-Reliefs"): 
"Faktura  is  the  main  distinguishing  feature  of  the  particular 
world  of  specially  constructed  things  which  in  their  entirety 
we  call  art  .  .  .  The  work  of  the  artist-poet  and  the  artist- 
painter  ultimately  aims  at  creating  a  permanent  object  that  is 
tangible  in  all  its  details,  a  faktura  object."25  Shklovskii  cites 
Tatlin's  and  Al'tman's  material  compositions  as  the  most 
convincing  examples  of  his  definition  of  art.  Suprematism,  on 
the  other  hand,  belongs  to  the  "Symbolist  school  of  painting" 
and  is  "essentially  'ideal'  painting"  since  it  strives  to  symbolize 
ideas  through  colors  and  abstract  shapes  instead  of  emphasizing 
the  properties  of  the  material  and  thereby  differentiating  and 
intensifying  the  tangible  values  of faktura. 

The  non-objective  artists  including  Rodchenko  and 
Stepanova  shared  this  negative  attitude  toward  the  ideal,  even 
metaphysical,  symbolism  of  the  Suprematists  and  especially  of 
Malevich.  After  the  opening  of  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition, 
Stepanova  wrote  in  her  diary  on  April  29,  1919:  "The  only 
compromise  admitted  there  is  Suprematism.  It  would  have 
been  better  to  exclude  it  and  exhibit  only  non-objective  art." 
Rodchenko  sang  the  same  tune  in  his  statement  in  the 
exhibition  catalogue,  where  he  compared  his  invention  of 
colorless,  black  faktura  with  Columbus's  discovery  of  the  New 
World  while  belittling  Malevich  as  the  philosopher  of  an  ism: 
"The  death  knell  has  sounded  for  color  painting  and  now  the 
last  ism  is  being  laid  to  eternal  rest  .  .  ,"26 

At  that  point,  Shklovskii  had  not  seen  Rodchenko's  black 
faktura  paintings  but  his  definition  perfectly  applies  to  their 
uncompromising  gesture.  In  their  radical  concentration  on 
faktura,  their  total  exclusion  of  all  other  painterly  values  such 
as  color,  light,  volume,  and  space,  and  their  reduction  of  form 
to  the  edge  of  perceptibility,  these  paintings  suddenly  revealed 
the  power  of  negation.  The  increasing  concern  with  faktura  as  a 
design  element  in  Russian  avant-garde  painting  since  1912 
assumed  a  completely  new  quality  after  Rodchenko's  black 
paintings  had  demonstrated  the  practical  and  aesthetic 
consequences  of  the  faktura  concept:  The  picture  lost  its 
symbolic  character;  it  became  an  object. 

This  sharp  distinction  between  the  artistic  object  and  the 
symbolic  picture  led  many  contemporaries,  as  well  as  present- 
day  scholars  such  as  Rainer  Griibel  or  Benjamin  Buchloh,  to 
the  assumption  that  the  faktura  object  was  completely  devoid 
of  any  outside  references.  Such  interpretations  see  the  reified 
work  stripped  of  all  meaning  that  transcends  the  self- 
referentiality  of  an  index  sign  pointing  to  the  qualities  of  its 
own  material  and  making.  It  is  true  that  some  of  Rodchenko's 
own  statements  suggest  a  reduction  of  Wis  faktura  paintings  to 
the  function  of  a  self-referential  sign.  After  all,  he  occasionally 
describes  them  as  signs  of  his  choice  of  materials,  i.e.,  black 
paint,  and  as  traces  of  his  painting  technique.  But  this 
disregard  for  all  further  references  has  a  deliberate  polemical 

edge  to  it.  In  the  historical  context  of  their  creation,  the 
meaning  of  the  faktura  objects  was  constituted  by  their  very 
negation  of  all  the  emotional  expressive  qualities  and  ideal 
references  that  had  bogged  down  the  painting  of  the  previous 
decades  and  distracted  it  from  its  essential  nature. 

This  negation  of  tradition  was,  however,  precisely  defined. 
Traditional  values  were  not  simply  rejected.  They  were 
replaced  by  new  products  which  introduced  new,  not  yet 
conventionalized  codes  of  perception.  In  the  catalogue  of  the 
Tenth  State  Exhibition,  Rodchenko  assembled — under  the 
heading  "Rodchenko's  System" — quotations  that  expounded 
upon  his  black  paintings.  With  statements  like  "That  I  destroy 
myself  only  shows  that  I  exist"  (Max  Stirner)  or  "What 
invigorates  life  invigorates  death"  (Walt  Whitman)  he  tried  to 
prove  that  the  rebirth  of  life  relied  on  death  as  its  necessary 
prerequisite.  In  this  sense,  the  literary  quotations  are 
metaphors  of  the  black  faktura  objects.  Standing  on  the  border 
between  the  old,  dead  art  and  a  new,  living  art,  the  real  things 
deal  the  pictorial  illusions  the  deathblow. 

Rodchenko's  choice  of  anarchist  writers  like  Max  Stirner 
was  not  an  accident.  There  are  numerous  indications  that 
Rodchenko,  nicknamed  "Anti"  by  his  friends,  conceived  of  the 
black  paintings  as  an  explicitly  anarchist  answer  to  the  ruling 
art.  Since  Courbet,  artists  have  time  and  again  used  the  color 
black  to  express  anarchistic  views,  even  if  their  works  did  not 
explicitly  refer  to  the  intended  symbolic  content.  We  have 
already  mentioned  Rodchenko's  active  involvement  in  the 
Moscow  Association  of  Anarchist  Groups.  In  the  April  28,  1918, 
issue  of  Anarchy,  he  published  his  first  theoretical  text,  a  brief 
analysis  of  his  experiments  with  shapes  and  colors  entitled 
"The  Dynamism  of  the  Plane."  In  this  article  as  well  as  in 
"Everything  Is  Experiment,"  he  repeatedly  used  the  term 
"expressive  means,"  although  without  specifying  what  a 
painting  "absorbed  in  itself  (in  Stepanova's  words)  was 
supposed  to  express. 

There  is  an  astoundingly  symbolic  self-portrait  of 
Rodchenko,  painted  in  1920  during  the  most  radical  phase  of 
the  liberation  of  his  painting  from  all  references.  An  egg- 
shaped,  bald  head  rises  from  a  turtleneck  sweater.  A  hexagonal 
rhombus,  overlaid  by  a  large  deep-black  disc,  covers  half  the 
wide-open  eyes  and  the  entire  forehead.  Is  this  strangely 
stigmatized  face  an  affirmation  of  the  color  black  as  a  symbol 
of  anarchism  or  rather  an  affirmation  of  anarchistic 
individualism  as  propagated  in  "Rodchenko's  System"?  In  this 
case  the  black  paintings  could  be  read  as  an  "expression"  of  this 
affirmation.  In  a  review  of  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition,  Lissitzky 
called  Rodchenko  an  "individualist"  who  had  started  "the  shift 
to  the  new  materiality"  with  his  black  paintings.27 

Such  an  interpretation  of  the  faktura  paintings  leads  one  to 
wonder  how  Rodchenko  and  the  future  Constructivists  could 
have  abandoned  this  individualist,  anarchistic  attitude  toward 
art  and  life  in  favor  of  the  collectivist  ideology  of 
Constructivism,  which  negated  not  only  the  individual  but 
also  the  role  of  intuition  in  the  creative  act,  feeling,  faktura, 
and  material.  In  their  stead,  Constructivism  postulated  the 
system  of  forms,  the  nonmaterial  line,  the  logically  planned 
structure,  the  rational  creative  method,  and  the  calculated 

In  "The  Line,"  Rodchenko  described  the  artistic  course  he 
had  taken  after  1918  as  a  logical  sequence  of  problems  in  the 
treatment  of  paint,  and  solutions  through  the  invention  of  new 
painting  techniques.  The  artist  saw  these  "inventions  of  new 
discoveries"  as  an  evolution  taking  place  strictly  within  art,  a 
kind  of  expedition  into  painting's  uncharted  territories  which 
had  previously  been  barred  by  tasks  alien  to  art.  What  he  did 
not  mention  was  the  possibility  of  art's  evolutionary  course 
being  motivated,  much  less  determined  by,  external  societal 


tasks  as  Brik  had  outlined  them  in  Art  of  the  Commune. 

It  took  a  number  of  developmental  factors,  both  within  and 
outside  art,  to  move  the  Moscow  Constructivists  grouped 
around  Rodchenko  along  the  way  that  led  from  individually 
composed  faktura  works  to  useful  Constructivist  "objects."  It 
should  be  emphasized  that  I  regard  this  development  as  only 
one  possible  way  among  "several  theoretically  conceivable 
evolutionary  courses"  pointed  out  by  Iurii  Tynianov  and 
Jakobson  in  the  journal  LefiLeft  Front  of  the  Arts)  in  1928. l8  The 
transition  from  the  black  faktura  studies  to  functionally 
planned  constructions  cannot  be  sufficiently  explained  by 
certain  "immanent  laws"  in  the  evolution  of  artistic  materials 
and  methods,  even  though  the  Constructivists  liked  to  give 
their  own  genesis  this  stamp  of  finality.  Nor  can  the  historical 
circumstances  provide  a  comprehensive  answer.  Only  by 
"analyzing  the  correlation  between  the  [artistic]  sequence  and 
other  historical  sequences"  can  the  "question  of  the  concrete 
choice  of  course"  be  clarified.  This  approach,  propounded  by 
Jakobson  and  Tynianov  for  art  in  general,  should  specifically  be 
applied  to  the  development  of  Russian  Constructivism. 

The  Universe  of  the  Line 

Critical  decisions  on  the  road  to  Constructivism  were  made 
between  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition  in  April  1919,  where 
Rodchenko  first  showed  his  black  paintings,  and  the  opening 
of  the  Nineteenth  State  Exhibition  on  October  2,  1920,  to 
which  he  contributed  fifty-seven  works,  most  of  them  from  his 
most  recent,  Linearist  phase.  With  the  introduction  of  the 
autonomous  line  as  a  new  element  in  painting,  Rodchenko 
took  a  crucial  step  toward  Constructivism,  replacing  paint 
with  the  line  as  the  essence  of  painting.  Probably  inspired  by 
Kandinskii's  article  "O  linii"  ("On  the  Line,"  1919)/'' 
Rodchenko  began  to  explore  the  qualities  of  the  line  in  several 
dozen  non-objective  pencil  drawings  (some  made  using  a  ruler, 
some  not)  in  April  and  March  1919.  In  August,  only  a  few 
months  after  the  faktura  paintings,  he  executed  ten  purely 
linear  black-and-white  paintings  from  the  pencil  sketches. 
The  same  month,  he  wrote  in  his  notebook:  "I  have  begun  to 
paint  canvases  with  linear  themes  .  .  .  They  will  be  unusual  and 
new  .  .  .  Certainly  I  will  draw  a  lot  of  criticism  for  my  lines. 
People  will  say  there  is  no  painting  without  brushstrokes.  But 
I  see  my  task  differently.  Color  has  died  in  black  and  become 
irrelevant.  Let  the  brushstroke  die  too." 

In  the  exhibition,  Rodchenko  hung  the  pages  of 
"Everything  Is  Experiment"  alongside  his  linear  paintings. 
The  text  presents  the  artist's  non-objective  work  of  previous 
years  as  a  development  that  follows  "immanent  laws,"  with  the 
painter  solving  "tasks"  that  result  from  formal  experiments 
with  the  "line"  and  "paint."  "The  composition  of  the  one  (the 
line)  and  the  faktura  of  the  other  (paint)  constitute  the  value  of 
painting  and  consequently  amount  to  the  discovery  of  painting 
itself."  Despite  the  equality  of  line  and  paint  suggested  in 
this  statement,  the  painter,  in  the  course  of  his  preoccupation 
with  the  line,  is  "confronted"  with  the  question,  "Is  faktura  a 
value  in  itself  or  does  it  only  serve  to  intensify  more 
fundamental  tasks  of  the  work?  I  believe  the  latter  to  be  the 
case  .  .  .  Otherwise  two  works  are  created  in  one,  one  with  its 
own  intrinsic  tasks  and  the  other  simply  the  pleasure  of  the 
surface.  Together  they  become  blurred  in  the  distance  and  do 
not  enhance  the  value  of  the  whole." 

Along  with  color  and  faktura,  Rodchenko  deliberately 
banishes  the  visual  and  haptic  "pleasure"  of  surface  attractions 
from  painting.  This  amounts  to  a  fundamental  decision  as  to 
the  intended  reception  of  art.  Hedonistic  enjoyment  and 
contemplative  absorption  in  surface  details  are  summarily 
rejected  in  favor  of  a  rational  perception  of  the  line 
construction's  economical  form  and  functional  implementation 

of  "intrinsic  tasks."  Straight  lines  are  the  most  economical 
means  to  build  constructions;  anything  that  conceals  the 
construction  is  superfluous,  anticonstructive,  dysfunctional. 

With  the  drastic  turn  horn  faktura  to  the  line,  a  necessary  if 
not  quite  sufficient  step  toward  merely  functionalist  painting 
had  been  taken.  To  transform  the  autonomous  linear  painting 
into  a  functional  object,  Linearism  still  had  to  pass  through 
various  stages: 

•From  the  planar  linear  composition  to  the  spatial  line 

•From  the  spatial  line  construction  in  the  picture  to  the 

three-dimensional  construction  in  the  picture  space 
•From  the  economical  structure  and  inner  functionality  of 

the  plastic  but  autonomous  spatial  construction  to  the 

fulfillment  of  an  external  purpose  by  the  constructed 


The  shift  from  the  flat  line  paintings  of  the  first  phase  with 
their  unstable  picture  space  of  intersecting  straight  lines  and 
circles  to  the  linear  structures  within  the  picture  space 
beginning  in  late  1919  was  certainly  inspired  by  Rodchenko 's 
cooperation  with  the  architects  of  Zhivskul'ptarkh  (the 
Synthesis  of  Painting,  Sculpture,  and  Architecture 
Commission).  He  joined  this  association  of  painters,  architects, 
and  sculptors,  who  strove  for  a  fusion  of  their  fields,  on 
November  18,  1919.  The  architectural  tasks  of  the  association 
soon  prompted  the  painter  to  develop  his  flat  linear 
compositions  into  tectonic  constructions  built  solely  of  lines. 
Despite  their  architectonics,  Rodchenko 's  linear  structures — 
such  as  the  1919  sketches  of  kiosks  (plate  no.  115)  or  the 
sketches  for  the  Soviet  of  Deputies  building  (plate  no.  653) — as 
well  as  the  projects  of  the  architects  Nikolai  Ladovskii  and 
Vladimir  Krinskii,  the  sculptor  Boris  Korolev,  and  the  painter 
Aleksandr  Shevchenko,  show  the  characteristics  of  an  exploded 
order.  The  planned  instability  of  the  buildings  with  their 
hazardously  projecting  structural  parts,  leaning  pillars,  and 
precariously  balanced  girders;  the  dissolution  of  spatial  blocks; 
the  breaking  up  of  the  traditional  rectangular  framework;  the 
displacement  and  penetration  of  irregularly  shaped  walls;  and 
the  confusing  mixture  of  Constructivist  ornament  and 
tectonically  functional  form  resulted  in  architectural  collages 
rather  than  coherent  complexes  and  in  a  discontinuously 
enclosed  space.  It  is  not  without  reason  that  these  designs  are 
frequently  cited  as  precursors  of  Deconstructivist  architecture. 

Amid  the  revolutionary  fervor  of  1919—20,  the  parts  were 
apparently  still  emancipated  from  the  organizing  structures 
and  strictures  of  the  whole.  The  designs  of  Rodchenko  and 
other  members  of  Zhivskul'ptarkh  demonstrate  an  architecture 
of  articulated  conflicts  and  inner  clashes  that  often  goes  to  the 
limit  of  structural  feasibility.  Only  at  the  end  of  the  1920s 
would  functionalism  introduce  a  new  harmonizing  unity  into 
the  architectural  structure  and  subordinate  the  parts  to  a 
flexible  architectonic  framework. 

Despite  their  Deconstructivist  configuration,  the 
architectural  designs  with  their  spatial,  linear  structures 
introduced  a  new  phase  in  the  defining  of  what  constituted  a 
work  of  art  that  ultimately  led  to  Constructivism.  Standing  at 
the  forefront  of  this  development,  Rodchenko  was  first  as 
isolated  as  he  had  feared  when  he  developed  his  Linearism. 
Looking  back,  in  October  1920,  at  the  exhibition  of  his  line 
paintings,  he  wrote  in  his  diary:  "At  the  time  none  of  the 
artists  perceived  them  as  paintings,  but  by  the  end  of  1920  and 
the  beginning  of  1921  the  first  imitators  of  my  art  appeared  on 
the  scene.  Many  said  the  line  as  a  system  had  opened  their  eyes 
to  the  essence  of  construction." 

It  took  several  more  external  factors  to  prompt  the 


development  from  line  constructions  to  the  methodically 
structured  "system"  of  Constructivism.  The  series  of 
discussions  among  the  artists  at  Inkhuk  was  one  of  those 

Inkhuk — The  Factory  of  Objectivity 

Rodchenko's  discoveries  in  painting  gained  a  broader  audience 
when  shortly  after  the  exhibition  of  his  line  paintings,  in  early 
November  1920,  he  was  appointed  head  of  a  "parallel" 
organizing  committee  of  Inkhuk,  which  had  been  formed  in 
opposition  to  the  existing  committee  under  Kandinskii. 

After  dramatic  arguments  between  Kandinskii's  and 
Rodchenko's  followers  about  the  tasks  and  programs  of 
Inkhuk,  Kandinskii  and  his  supporters  left  the  Institute  for 
good  on  January  21,  1921.  This  also  ended  the  two-year 
friendship  between  him  and  Rodchenko  and  Stepanova — the 
three  artists  had  worked  and  lived  together  in  Kandinskii's 
house  from  September  1919  until  the  autumn  of  1920.  But 
while  they  had  collaborated  to  prepare  the  Nineteenth  State 
Exhibition  in  October  1920,  Kandinskii's  expressive 
abstractionism  and  the  objective  outlook  of  Rodchenko's 
Constructivism  had  proved  irreconcilable.  Even  peaceful 
coexistence  seemed  impossible  in  those  days  of  struggle  for  a 
new  art  (although  Brik  had  proposed  cooperation).  On 
February  4,  1921,  the  committee  under  Rodchenko  was 
officially  confirmed.  The  line  represented  by  him  and  the 
committee  members  Brik,  Briusova,  Aleksei  Babichev, 
Krinskii,  Popova,  and  Stepanova  had  been  victorious. 

Not  only  the  committee  but  also  the  General  Working 
Group  of  Objective  Analysis  at  Inkhuk  was  under  Rodchenko's 
direction.  The  group  counted  among  its  members  almost  all 
the  future  Constructivists  in  Moscow.  Even  Malevich  and 
Lissitzky  made  the  long  trip  from  Vitebsk  to  present  Unovis's 
programs  and  work  at  Inkhuk.  But  the  Working  Group  found 
little  common  ground  with  them  or  with  Tatlin,  who  in  1919 
had  moved  from  Moscow  to  Petrograd  (where  he  would  work 
at  the  Museum  of  Artistic  Culture/Ginkhuk  [the  State 
Institute  of  Artistic  Culture]).  No  fruitful  cooperation  ever 
developed  with  either  Vitebsk  or  Petrograd.  The  ideological 
differences  were  too  glaring. 

Between  its  formation  on  November  23,  1920,  and  May 
1921,  the  General  Working  Group  of  Objective  Analysis  held 
twenty-eight  sessions.  In  contrast  to  the  analyses  of  the 
psychological  and  physiological  effects  of  artworks  of  all  types 
planned  in  Kandinskii's  Inkhuk  program,  the  group's  program 
emphasized  the  "objective  analysis  of  works  of  art"  so  as  to 
clarify  and  define  the  primary  and  secondary  elements  of 
painting,  sculpture,  architecture,  and  so  on,  as  well  as  their 
laws  of  organization,  specifically  the  structural  laws  of 
"construction"  and  "rhythm."  These  laws  were  to  be 
analytically  "laid  bare" — a  term  obviously  borrowed  from  the 
Formalists.  Characteristically,  "emotion"  and  "representation" 
were  ranked  among  the  secondary  elements  of  art  to  be 
analyzed,  whereas  Kandinskii's  program  had  drawn  upon  the 
"analysis  of  artistic  means  of  expression"  and  their  "effects  on 
the  human  psyche."  In  opposition  to  this  subjective 
understanding  of  works  of  art  as  expressive  signs,  the  group's 
program  perceived  them  as  objects  devoid  of  individual  artistic 
expression,  hence  not  requiring  any  psychological  empathy  on 
the  part  of  the  viewer  but  rather  an  empirical,  behavioristic 
analysis  of  his  own  physiological  responses  in  order  to 
apprehend  the  objects'  effects.  To  implement  their  program, 
the  Working  Group  held  numerous  sessions  between  January 
and  April  1921,  discussing  the  "analysis  of  the  terms 
'construction'  and  'composition'  and  their  respective 
definition."  At  the  same  time,  works  by  Western  painters  such 
as  Monet,  Signac,  and  Matisse;  by  older  Russian  artists  like 

Abram  Arkhipov,  Konstantin  Korovin,  Aleksandr  Kuprin,  Petr 
Konchalovskii,  and  Kandinskii;  and  by  Suprematists  and  non- 
objectivists  (Ekster,  Klutsis,  Malevich,  Medunetskii, 
Rodchenko,  Stepanova,  and  Tatlin)  were  analyzed  to  determine 
their  Constructivist  content. 

The  artists  and  theorists  did  not  enter  into  these  discussions 
with  a  clear,  let  alone  a  unanimous,  definition  of  "composition" 
and  "construction"  and  the  difference  between  them.  They 
began  by  analyzing  individual  works  and  tried   to  reduce  the 
observations  and  evaluations  of  the  group  members,  recorded 
in  countless  minutes,  to  a  common  denominator.  By  way  of 
empirical  induction,  they  hoped  to  find  an  objective  definition 
of  the  term  "construction." 

Despite  this  effort  at  an  inductive  approach,  the  recorded 
results  with  their  interim  solutions,  as  well  as  the  drawings 
made  to  illustrate  the  difference  between  composition  and 
construction  (plate  nos.  244-253),  show  the  outlines  of  a 
preconceived  notion  of  "construction"  which  was  clearly 
inspired  by  Rodchenko's  line  paintings.  It  is  therefore  not 
surprising  that  at  the  end  of  these  sessions  only  Rodchenko's 
works  were  deemed  "constructive"  since  they  alone  had 
completely  replaced  composition  with  construction. 
Rodchenko  was  more  guarded,  describing  his  black  and  line 
paintings  as  "striving  for  construction." 

In  the  course  of  these  "objective"  analyses  and 
terminological  clarifications  a  general  tendency  to  systematize 
and  rationalize  artistic  creation  became  apparent.  In 
Rodchenko's  definition  of  "construction,"  its  systemic  character 
plays  an  important  role:  "Every  system  of  construction  requires 
the  specific  use  of  its  own  material,  and  every  such  system  will 
be  the  invention  or  the  perfecting  of  something,  and  not  a 
reflection  or  portrayal."'0 


In  his  hanging  spatial  constructions,  Rodchenko  for  the  first 
time  consistently  demonstrated  the  systemic  character  of 
construction  in  an  aesthetically  convincing  manner.  Each  of  the 
five — a  square,  a  hexagon  (plate  no.  296),  an  oval  (plate  no. 
294),  a  circle,  and  a  triangle — was  constructed  of  a  single  sheet 
of  plywood.  The  artist  cut  the  sheets  in  concentric  bands  of 
equal  width  and  tilted  them  into  space  to  create  three- 
dimensional  bodies  that  were  not  constituted  of  physical  mass 
but  of  linear,  uniform  geometric  figures.  Like  paintings,  these 
constructions  could  not  stand  on  their  own  and  were  therefore 
suspended  from  the  ceiling — which  emphasized  their 
autonomy  as  monadic,  nonutilitarian  entities. 

It  would  be  an  understatement  of  the  facts  to  consider  these 
constructions  mere  signs  of  Rodchenko's  transition  from 
painting  to  sculpture.  Such  an  assessment  would  ignore  the 
origins  of  construction  in  painting.  Only  the  negation  of 
painterliness  explains  the  hanging  construction's  anti- 
individualist,  universal  geometric  form,  reproducibility,  and 
independence  from  an  individual  creator  or  specific  material 
that  earlier  on  would  have  born  the  hallmark  of  the  artist's 
faktura.  The  uniformly  smooth  silver  paint  emphasizes  the 
absence  of  any  surface  faktura  and  evokes  the  impression  of 
immateriality  and  weightlessness.  The  hanging  spatial 
constructions  hold  no  secrets.  Their  design  is  completely 
transparent  and  rational.  The  basic  elements  of  painting — 
surface  and  color — have  been  transformed  into  movement  and 
light.  The  metallic  sheen  of  their  surface  underscores  the 
disembodied  effect  of  the  hanging  constructions  (or  "reflecting 
surfaces,"  as  Rodchenko  sometimes  described  them).  Paint  and 
the  canvas  or  wooden  surface  of  painting  have  been  literally 
dissected  and  dissolved,  and  the  destruction  of  matter  gives 
birth  to  the  pure  construction  as  a  reconstruction  of  the 
objective  world  according  to  the  artist's  plan. 


Rodchenko  created  his  series  of  hanging  constructions 
between  late  1920  and  early  1921  while  also  working  on  a 
number  of  other  wood  constructions  based  on  the  principle  of 
repetition  of  a  single  form.  In  these  works,  identical  elements 
such  as  wooden  rods  or  boards  of  equal  measurements  are 
assembled  into  three-dimensional  constructions  that  are 
symmetrically  arranged  around  a  center.  Like  the  hanging 
constructions,  these  smaller-scale  constructions  dispense  with 
faktura,  individual  variations,  and  so  forth.  Rather,  they  are  an 
exercise  in  combinatory  rules  to  show  that  even  uniform 
material  elements   can  produce  a  variety  of  aesthetically 
satisfying  constructions.  The  material  plays  only  a  minor  role 
in  the  combinatory  method.  The  construction  follows  the 
methods  of  building  elementary  structural  systems  and  not  the 
material.  Rodchenko  remarked:  "I  experimentally  developed 
these  most  recent  constructions  to  bind  the  constructor  to  the 
law  of  functionality  of  forms  and  their  relationships  and  to 
demonstrate  the  universal  principle  that  all  sorts  of 
constructions  of  different  systems,  types,  and  applications  can 
be  built  from  identical  shapes." 

Built  on  the  principle  of  identical  shapes  and  axially 
symmetrical  shifts,  these  constructions  are  results  of  an  ars 
combinatoria  which  experimentally  explores  and  demonstrates 
the  methods  of  the  creation  of  forms.  The  construction  method 
and  the  resulting  system  of  forms  are  paramount  while  faktura 
and  material  play  an  inferior  role.  At  this  point,  the 
functionality  of  the  construction  is  still  defined  from  within 
the  system:  a  form  is  functional  because  it  defines  the  other 
forms  in  the  system  and  determines  their  function,  not  because 
it  can  be  used  to  fulfill  tasks  outside  the  system.  These 
constructions  are  hence  functionally  structured  in  themselves 
but  their  elements  have  no  other  function  than  to  constitute 
this  structure.  The  structure  itself  remains  without  any 
utilitarian  function — while  positively  asserting  its  aesthetic 

One  conspicuous  hallmark  of  the  most  advanced 
constructions  of  1921  is  their  systemic  character:  a  radically 
economic  structure  of  uniform  elements  and  homogeneous 
materials  which  can  be  arranged  in  various  combinations  that 
are  consistently  functional  within  the  system.  This  systemic 
conception  of  construction  differs  considerably  from  the 
meaning  given  to  the  term  in  the  discussions  about 
construction  versus  composition  where  "construction"  had 
primarily  denoted  architectural  design  and  stability.  This 
rather  literal,  easy-to-grasp  notion  of  constructiveness  is 
reflected  in  most  constructions  from  the  so-called  "laboratory" 
phase  of  Constructivism,  including  the  constructions  of  Tatlin, 
Vasilii  Ermilov,  Medunetskii,  Georgii  and  Vladimir  Stenberg, 
Naum  Gabo,  and  Katarzyna  Kobro,  as  well  as  some  of  Klutsis's 
and  Rodchenko 's  constructions.  None  of  these  works  display 
the  systemic  character  defined  by  Rodchenko,  for  their  formal 
elements  are  neither  consistently  uniform  and  homogeneous 
nor  are  they  organized  according  to  a  rational  combinatory 
method.  Besides  Rodchenko's  hanging  constructions  and  small 
wood  constructions,  only  a  few  constructions  and  sketches  by 
Klutsis  and  a  number  of  Ioganson's  constructions  conform  with 
the  ideal  of  a  systematic  structure. 

At  the  exhibition  of  Obmokhu  (the  Society  of  Young 
Artists)  in  May -June  1921,  Ioganson  presented  some  of  the 
most  individual  and  convincing  constructions  in  the  entire 
show.  The  six  works,  which  have  survived  only  in  photographs, 
are  constructed  of  pieces  of  squared  timber  arranged  mostly  at 
square  but  also  at  acute  and  obtuse  angles.  Three  spatial 
constructions,  exhibited  side  by  side  to  emphasize  the  principle 
of  variation,  each  consisted  of  identical  wooden  pieces  which 
intersected  in  the  center  of  the  construction  at  varying  angles. 
The  skeletal  structures  were  held  together  by  wire  or  rope, 

which  braced  the  ends  of  the  wooden  pieces  for  maximum 
countertension  and  overall  stability.  They  were  tilted  to  the 
side  so  that  they  rested  on  three  vertices,  which  gave  the 
structures  a  strong  dynamic  effect  and  made  them  appear  much 
more  complex  than  they  actually  were.  Two  other  spatial 
constructions  on  triangular  pedestals  also  had  rectangular 
structures,  with  the  formal  elements  symmetrically  arranged 
around  the  center  of  each  construction. 

Ioganson's  Study  in  Balance  (ca.  1920),  also  shown  at  the 
Obmokhu  exhibition,  was  organized  according  to  the  same 
method  as  the  spatial  constructions.  Three  movable  rods, 
connected  by  rope,  were  mounted  above  a  triangular  base  slab. 
By  pulling  the  rope,  the  rods  could  be  arranged  in  different 
configurations  to  change  the  entire  structure. 

These  structures,  made  of  standardized  elements  and 
homogeneous  materials  and  rendered  transformative  through 
variable  central  connections  or  kinetic  mounting,  were 
exemplary  models  of  Ioganson's  concept  of  the  "mechanical 
construction."  Charts  with  two  lines  crossing  at  right  or  acute 
and  obtuse  angles  served  Ioganson  to  illustrate  a  thesis  he 
presented  at  Inkhuk  on  March  9,  1922:  "The  design  of  every 
cold  structure  in  space  or  any  combination  of  hard  material  is  a 
cross  with  right  angles  (or)  with  acute  and  obtuse  angles." 

With  these  drawings,  Ioganson  struck  the  balance  of  his 
previous  work.  At  the  end  of  his  lecture,  he  summarized  his 
own  artistic  development  as  a  logical  and  necessary  sequence: 
"From  painting  to  sculpture,  from  sculpture  to  construction, 
from  construction  to  technology  and  invention — that  is  the 
course  I  have  chosen  and  I  am  sure  it  will  also  be  the  ultimate 
direction  of  every  revolutionary  artist." 

In  1924,  Ioganson  gave  up  art  in  favor  of  technology  and 
began  to  work  in  a  rolling  mill — not  as  an  ordinary  technician 
but  as  an  "inventor"  of  design  methods  which  he  tried  to 
translate  from  his  sculptures  to  the  construction  of  utilitarian 
objects.  He  contrasted  the  methods  of  "mechanical 
construction"  and  "invention"  developed  in  his  spatial 
constructions  with  the  "unimaginative"  and  "stagnating" 
technology  of  the  period — but  also  with  "the  procedures, 
methods,  techniques,  materials,  and  tools  of  art,"  which  he 
considered  "useless,  flawed,  primitive,  and  extremely 
insufficient"  for  the  design  of  the  future.  Championing  a 
rationally  calculated  design  method,  he  polemically  attacked 
Tatlin's  selections  of  materials  as  well  as  the  Suprematist 
compositions  by  Malevich  and  his  Unovis  followers  for  their 
intuitive  treatment  of  material  and  unsystematic  design.  In 
their  failure  to  progress  beyond  the  methods  of  the  "old  art," 
these  artists — in  Ioganson's  view — relapsed  into  a  "wrong  and 
noxious  form  of  construction,  i.e.,  into  the  'good  old  art'  or 
into  mere  playfulness." 

In  his  lecture  at  Inkhuk,  Ioganson  stressed  that  the 
innovative,  transformable  "mechanical"  construction  was 
nothing  but  the  "thing"  itself,  "organized  according  to 
Constructivist  principles."  Therefore  it  had  "no  existence 
above,  below,  or  beyond  the  thing."  Ioganson  was  thus  the  first 
to  postulate  the  principle  of  concrete  art  and  minimal  art:  that 
the  work  of  art  is  a  structured  thing,  i.e.,  the  material 
implementation  of  a  systematically  designed  structure  that  is 
transformable  within  the  limits  of  its  own  system. 
Accordingly,  the  spatial  construction  is  merely  a  self- 
explication  of  its  methodically  organized  intrinsic  structure. 

Ioganson  drew  the  necessary  conclusions  from  this 
reification  of  art  when  he  attempted  to  apply  his  originally 
artistic  design  method  to  the  "invention"  of  industrial 
products.  This  created  an  entirely  new  situation  as  the 
structure  now  had  to  meet  utilitarian  requirements  outside  its 
own  system — which  basically  amounted  to  a  return  to  the 
"theme"  or  "content"  of  the  old  art  in  the  new  guise  of 


utilitarian  function.  Only  for  one  fleeting  historic  moment  did 
the  liberation  of  art  from  representational  and  expressive 
functions  lead  to  its  complete  autonomy.  The  immanent 
functionality  of  systematically  organized  material  was  soon 
replaced  by  the  external  function  of  serving  a  "social  task,"  as 
Brik  put  it.  With  the  demand  for  the  practical  usefulness  of 
artistic  constructions,  the  spiritual  effects  of  the  newborn 
autonomous  structural  system  were  criticized  as  merely 
aesthetic.  This  was  not  a  time  for  concrete  or  minimal  art  to 

When  the  technological  and  industrial  modernization  of 
the  Russian  society  set  in  with  full  force  in  1920,  the  vanguard 
artists  had  to  live  up  to  their  progressive  self-image.  The  most 
radical  ones  renounced  the  principle  of  autonomy  and  plunged 
into  the  current  of  modernization,  convinced  that  their 
"professional"  artistic  skills  would  enable  them  to  influence  its 
course.  But  once  they  had  left  the  position  of  critical  observers, 
they  soon  had  to  recognize  that  they  were  insufficiently 
equipped  and  trained  to  withstand  the  danger  of  drowning  in 
the  rough  waves  of  progress.  At  best,  the  artists,  like  everyone 
else,  became  travelers  in  the  inexorable  stream  of  accumulation 
and  utilization,  unable  to  diagnose  and  demonstrate  its 
motives  and  casualties. 

The  Obmokhu  exhibition  in  1921  had  presented  Ioganson's 
spatial  constructions  as  well  as  Rodchenko's  hanging 
constructions  to  the  public  for  the  first  time.  Both  artists  were 
members  of  the  First  Working  Group  of  Constructivists  at 
Inkhuk,  which  had  been  founded  only  a  few  weeks  before. 
Ioganson  and  Rodchenko  exhibited  as  guest  artists  since, 
unlike  the  Stenberg  brothers  and  Medunetskii — who  had  also 
contributed  works  to  the  show — they  did  not  belong  to 
Obmokhu.  In  this  fascinating,  historically  momentous 
exhibition,  three  types  of  constructions  can  be  distinguished: 

1.  Ioganson's  and  Rodchenko's  purely  structural 
combinations  or  "cold"  constructions,  as  Ioganson  described 

2.  The  "warm"  constructions  based  on  materials  and  not  on 
a  structural  system.  These  include,  to  a  certain  extent,  the 
Stenbergs'  reliefs,  but  primarily  Medunetskii's  sculptures.  His 
constructions  focus  on  the  aesthetic  and  constructive  qualities 
of  the  material,  which  are  heightened  through  contrasting 
forms  and  faktura.  His  Spatial  Construction  (plate  no.  282),  in 
particular,  has  pronounced  "painterly"  qualities  with  the  red 
finish  of  the  curved  iron  rod  and  the  use  of  different  colored 
metal  parts.  Medunetskii's  other  constructions,  displayed  on  a 
table-like  base  at  the  exhibition,  are  also  combinations  of 
different  materials  with  contrasting  surfaces  and  textures.  He 
predominantly  used  semifinished  forged  or  industrially 
processed  metal  products  but  also  found  objects  such  as  a 
plowshare,  the  metal  handle  of  a  pitcher,  or  a  slat  from  a  piece 
of  furniture.  During  the  reconstruction  of  these  works  it 
became  apparent  how  much  the  curved  or  twisted  forms  were 
determined  by  the  properties  of  the  material,  its  strength, 
flexibility,  and  thickness.  The  form  and  faktura  of  the 
construction  result  from  a  synthesis  of  the  artist's  abstract 
formal  and  spatial  vision,  his  intuitive,  sometimes  arbitrary, 
choice  of  materials  according  to  "painterly"  and  "constructive" 
criteria,  and  the  inherent  properties  of  these  materials. 
Symbolic  references  are,  however,  absent  from  these 
constructions — unless  one  is  willing  to  read  the  parabolas  and 
hyperbolas,  which  also  recur  in  Medunetskii's  paintings,  as 
signs  of  the  curvature  of  space-time  (an  interpretation  that 
actually  fits  the  same  geometric  forms  in  the  works  of 
Malevich,  Klutsis,  or  Lissitzky). 

3.  The  symbolic  constructions  by  Georgii  and  Vladimir 
Stenberg.  Constructed  from  the  "materials  of  the  new 
Classicism" — glass  and  iron — and  set  on  rather 

unconventionally  shaped  pedestals,  these  "constructions  of 
spatial  structures"  (plate  nos.  291—293)  represent  "ideas"  such  as 
modernity,  industrial  revolution,  and  technological  progress. 
These  abstract  structures  were  so  close  to  their  referents  that 
critics  gave  them  the  label  of  "technological  naturalism."  The 
artists  rejected  this  symbolic  reading  of  their  constructions, 
which  they  claimed  were  merely  economically  and  functionally 
organized  objects.  Like  Ioganson  and  Rodchenko,  they  tried  to 
exclude  the  subjective  effects  of faktura  from  their 
constructions.  All  planes  of  their  constructions  were  clear 
glass,  a  material  that  by  its  very  smoothness,  hardness,  and 
transparency  negates  faktura. 

What  unites  all  these  different  constructions  in  the 
exhibition  is  the  rhythm  of  their  structures.  In  their  programmatic 
and  theoretical  texts  of  1920-22,  all  Soviet  Constructivists 
unanimously  declared  rhythm  the  most  important  organizing 
principle  and  effect  of  their  constructions.  Given  the  three 
artistic  positions  toward  structure,  material,  and  symbolic 
function  outlined  above,  it  is  not  surprising  that  in  the 
following  years  the  Stenberg  brothers  made  a  successful  career 
for  themselves  in  the  Soviet  Union,  first  in  the  theater  (plate 
nos.  642—645)  and  later  as  the  country's  most  significant  and 
sought-after  designers  of  film  posters  (plate  nos.  426-430).  The 
synthesis  of  pictorial  symbolization  and  decorative  structure 
required  in  these  media  is  clearly  present  in  the  brothers' 
constructions.  Medunetskii,  too,  successfully  progressed  from 
his  "painterly"  material  constructions  to  set  designs  for  the 
avant-garde  theater,  while  Ioganson  and  Rodchenko  continued 
to  experiment  and  develop  their  design  methods  and  systems. 

The  1921  Obmokhu  exhibition  was  arguably  the 
culmination  of  the  short  history  of  Constructivist  object  art. 
Soon  after  the  opening  of  the  show,  the  theorists  of  "production 
art"  as  well  as  the  artists  themselves  came  to  regard  the 
innovative  but  still  autonomous  constructions  as  studies  in 
Productivist  aesthetics  rather  than  independent  contributions 
to  Constructivist  art.  The  term  "laboratory  experiment"  was 
coined  as  early  as  1921;  it  downgraded  the  constructions  in  the 
Obmokhu  exhibition  and  relegated  Constructivist  works  to  the 
status  of  basic  research  for  future  practical  applications,  thereby 
robbing  them  of  any  significance  of  their  own  which  might 
have  been  worth  pursuing. 

After  the  materiological  and  methodological  phases  of 
Constructivism,  and  at  the  end  of  the  search  for  "construction" 
in  the  artistic  creations  of  the  past  and  present,  technological 
issues  and  functional  demands  increasingly  determined  the 
artistic  discourse  and  the  definition  of  Constructivism  at 
Inkhuk.  Rodchenko's  own  concluding  definition,  delivered  in 
March  1921  toward  the  end  of  the  discussions  of  the  distinction 
between  composition  and  construction,  reads: 

Construction  is  a  thing  or  a  task  that  is  approached  with  a  precise 
working  schedule  and  in  which  all  materials  and  all  their  specific 
components  are  organized  and  used  according  to  their  correct  functions 
without  adding  anything  superfluous.  The  correct  approach  to  each 
space  is  construction. 

Construction  is:  goal — working  plan — organization — material — 

New  things  can  be  created  only  if  there  is  Constructivist 
organization  .  .  .  Composition  is  always  an  expression  of 
individualism  and  everything  individualism  implies. 

Constructivism  arose  from  the  criticism  of  the  individualist 
compositional  art  of  the  past  and  immediate  present  and  saw 
itself  as  its  direct  negation.  Malevich  and  Tatlin  were  among 
those  who  had  to  face  some  heavy  attacks.  In  Rodchenko's 
critical  view,  the  Suprematist  compositions  were  capable  only 
of  "filling  empty  spaces  in  an  individualist  manner,"  while 


Tatlin  in  his  counter-reliefs  confined  himself  to  selecting  from 
available  materials.  "When  [an  artist]  selects  such  materials  as 
are  at  hand  or  fills  an  empty  space  with  decorations,  it  is 

For  Rodchenko,  any  kind  of  construction,  whether  on  a 
surface  or  in  space,  in  art  or  technology,  requires  a  precise 
hierarchy  and  sequence  of  functions:  after  determining  the 
"goal,"  i.e.,  the  function  of  the  construction,  a  working 
schedule  is  developed,  which  specifies  the  procedures  and  tools 
for  reaching  the  goal;  then  the  appropriate  material  is  selected 
and  processed  and  used  as  economically  as  possible. 

From  Individualist  Anarchism  to  Technological 

This  "evolutionary  course"  of  artistic  production  toward  anti- 
individualist  systematization,  rationalization,  and 
mechanization  was  neither  predictable  before  the 
Constructivist  debates  at  Inkhuk  began  nor  a  natural  result  of 
these  discussions.  The  decision  in  favor  of  collectivism  had 
been  preceded  by  the  individualist  anarchism  of  the  black 
faktura  paintings,  which  had  convincingly  embodied  the 
concept  of  the  work  of  art  as  an  object  and  were  closely 
connected  with  Rodchenko s  belief  in  the  principles  of  Stirner 
and  Whitman.  Moreover,  his  definition  of  construction  was  in 
glaring  contrast  to  his  affirmation  of  "abstract  spiritual 
creativity"  in  January  1919  and  his  advocacy  of  Eastern  over 
Western  art  during  the  planning  of  the  Museum  of  Painterly 
Culture  in  March  1919:  "Asiatic  art  is  spiritual,  was  regarded 
with  religious  awe  .  .  .  The  West  treats  art  lightly,  in  material 
terms;  the  East  worships  art,  elevates  it  above  everything  else, 
does  not  make  it  utilitarian."" 

Similarly,  Stepanova's  statements  of  1919-20  are 
diametrically  opposed  to  the  definitions  and  evaluations  of 
composition  and  construction  she  gave  but  a  short  time  later. 
In  the  catalogue  of  the  Tenth  State  Exhibition  she  still  praised 
"intuition"  and  "emotion"  as  positive  values,  explicitly  calling 
the  work  of  non-objective  artists  a  "protest  of  the  spirit  against 
the  materialism  of  the  present."'2  As  late  as  October  1920,  in 
her  manifesto  "On  the  Possibilities  of  the  Cognition  of  Art," 
written  on  the  occasion  of  the  Nineteenth  State  Exhibition,  she 
defended  the  "miraculous" — in  the  sense  of  a  transcendent 
quality — as  an  essential  characteristic  of  art.  At  the  same  time, 
she  strongly  objected  to  the  equation  of  mathematics  and  art: 
"The  Formalist  approach  now  being  pursued  in  art  is  a  tribute 
to  the  materialism  of  our  time.  But  none  of  us  will  ever 
subordinate  art  to  mathematics."  The  concept  of  the  "artist- 
proletarian"  as  executor  of  objective  "tasks"  was  still  anathema 
to  her.  She  considered  the  "starting  point,"  "the  creative 
impulse"  to  be  as  yet  undiscovered  and  therefore  to  constitute 
something  "incomprehensible,"  a  "miracle"  that  could  not  be 
reduced  to  the  calculated  execution  of  a  rationally  formulated 

A  year  later,  on  December  22,  1921,  she  delivered  her  talk 
"On  Constructivism"  at  Inkhuk: 

This  revolutionary,  destructive  activity,  which  strips  art  down  to 
its  basic  elements,  has  shocked  the  consciousness  of  those  who  work  in 
art:  it  has  confronted  them  with  the  problem  of  construction  as  an 
expedient  necessity.  Based  on  the  further  principle  of  the  expedient 
implementation  of  work,  a  new  Constructivist  ideology  has  been 

Being  aware  of  this  new  activity  is  particularly  important. 
Subconscious  inspiration  {a  fortuitous  phenomenon)  is  transformed  into 
organized  activity. 

The  intellect  is  our  point  of  departure,  taking  the  place  of  the 
"soul"  of  idealism. 

From  this  it  follows  that,  on  the  whole.  Constructivism  is  also 

intellectual  production  (and  not  thought  alone),  incompatible  with  the 
spirituality  of  artistic  activity. " 

How  did  this  conversion  from  transcendentalism  to  intellectual 
rationalism  come  about?  What  prompted  the  abrupt  turnabout 
from  the  rejection  of  functional  tasks  even  within  art  to  an 
organized  implementation  of  practical  purposes? 

A  sudden  revelation  cannot  have  been  the  only  cause.  So 
how  can  we  explain  this  ideological  and  aesthetic  about-face, 
which  was  soon  followed  by  a  change  of  paradigms  in  artistic 
practice:  from  the  substance  of  paint  to  the  immaterial 
structure,  from  the  Deconstructivist  jumble  of  lines  to  the 
planned,  clear-cut  organizing  system?  The  discovery  of  the  line 
as  an  independent  constructive  factor  and  the  transition  from 
faktura  to  Linearism  do  not  suffice  in  themselves  to  elucidate 
the  radical  change  of  values  from  individualism  to  collectivism, 
from  spiritualism  to  materialism,  from  non-utilitarian 
thinking  to  the  principle  of  usefulness,  from  the 
incomprehensible  "miracle"  to  the  cogent  intellectual  system, 
and  from  imagination  and  intuition  to  logical  calculation  and 

There  were  a  number  of  critical  external  developments, 
beginning  in  1919,  that  contributed  to  the  sharp  swerve  in  the 
"evolutionary  course"  of  art  between  1920  and  1921.  The 
enhanced  institutional  powers  of  the  Soviet  government  after 
the  end  of  the  Civil  War  in  the  autumn  of  1920  intensified  the 
crisis  in  art  which  had  been  smoldering  since  the  February 

Art  of  the  Commune  was  forcibly  closed  in  April  1919  and  in 
September  Iskusstvo  (Art),  the  journal  of  Izo  Narkompros,  had 
to  cease  publication.  The  largely  autonomous  Professional 
Union  of  Artists  and  Painters  was  dissolved  in  December  1919. 
Several  of  its  members — including  Kandinskii,  Rodchenko, 
and  Stepanova — went  on  to  found  Inkhuk  in  order  to  protect 
the  professional  interests  of  artists.  Under  these  circumstances, 
the  formation  of  Inkhuk  can  hardly  be  considered  a  success  of 
the  avant-garde.  On  the  contrary:  after  the  dissolution  and 
reorganization  of  Izo  Narkompros  in  December  1920— early 
1921,  which  cost  the  avant-garde  most  of  its  influence  on  the 
country's  artistic  life,  Inkhuk  became  the  vanguard  artists'  last 
refuge  in  Moscow. 

The  administrative  autonomy  of  the  artists  was  effectually 
stamped  out.  To  make  matters  worse,  on  December  1,  1920, 
Pravda  published  a  "Letter  of  the  Central  Committee  of  the 
Communist  Party  on  the  Proletkul't  Organizations"  that 
lumped  the  "Futurists"  together  with  those  "decadent 
elements"  and  "followers  of  an  idealistic  philosophy  hostile  to 
Marxism"  who  had  exerted  a  "subversive  influence"  on  Izo 
Narkompros  as  well  as  on  the  Proletkul't  organizations.  For 
this  reason,  both  Izo  Narkompros  and  Proletkul't  had  to  be 
dissolved  as  autonomous  organizations  and  put  under  the  close 
control  of  the  People's  Commissariat  of  Enlightenment.  In 
January  1921,  Lunacharskii  found  it  necessary  to  caution  against 
a  public  "witch  hunt"  that  would  make  the  "Futurists"  and 
non-objective  artists  "martyrs  in  the  name  of  their  ideas." 
Finally,  in  early  1921,  the  avant-garde  lost  its  last  institutional 
stronghold  when  the  Museum  Department  led  by  Rodchenko, 
Kandinskii,  and  Tatlin  was  dissolved.  Looking  back  at  these 
hard  times,  Brik  wrote:  "The  'Futurists'  were  seriously 
committed  to  destroying  the  past  and  tried  to  use  their 
positions  within  the  administration  for  this  purpose.  They  did 
not  succeed.  The  guardians  of  philistinism  proved  to  be 
stronger  and  threw  the  'Futurists'  out  of  all  the  commissariats." 

By  early  1921,  with  this  chain  of  defeats,  the  influence  that 
the  anarchist  avant-garde  had  on  official  art  policy  was  at  an 
end.  Politically  on  the  defensive  and  deprived  of  their 
organizational  clout,  avant-garde  artists  had  to  rethink  their 


role  and  place  in  society  for  the  third  time,  after  the  first  crisis 
following  the  February  Revolution  and  the  second  following 
October  1917. 

A  desperately  defiant  statement  Maiakovskii  made  in  the 
winter  of  1920  reveals  what  this  crisis  meant  for  the  individual 
artist:  "We  declare:  to  hell  with  individualism,  to  hell  with 
words  and  emotions  ...  so  that  we  can  even  renounce  our  own 
personality  .  .  .  the  poet  can't  be  forced  but  he  can  force 

It  was  only  now,  three  years  after  the  Revolution,  that  the 
necessity  of  again  redefining  their  role  led  the  avant-garde  to 
lock  arms  with  technology  and  industrial  production  as  the 
political-social  revolution  mutated  into  an  industrial 
revolution.  The  most  advanced  artists  kept  up  with  this 
change.  Artistic  Modernism  took  the  way  of  modernization — 
with  the  Constructivists  in  the  lead.  They  marched  along  with 
the  first  "utopian"  endeavors  to  industrialize  the  Soviet  Union 
after  the  Revolution. 

In  December  1920,  the  Soviet  government  tackled  the 
implementation  of  the  Goelro  (the  State  Commission  for  the 
Electrification  of  Russia)  plan,  which  envisioned  huge  energy 
projects  as  the  basis  of  the  reconstruction  and  expansion  of 
Russia's  shattered  economy  and  industry.  Lenin,  the  moving 
force  behind  this  plan,  stressed  its  far-reaching  implications  for 
the  future  of  Soviet  society.  His  response  to  a  question  from  the 
correspondent  of  the  English  Daily  Express  has  often  been 
quoted:  "Electrification  on  the  basis  of  the  Soviet  order  will 
lead  to  the  final  victory  of  the  foundations  of  Communism  in 
our  country,  the  foundations  of  a  civilized  life  without 
exploiters,  without  capitalists,  without  landowners,  without 
merchants."  By  the  end  of  1920,  the  electrification  project  was 
the  talk  of  the  day.  The  electrified  Utopia  not  only  captured  the 
minds  and  imaginations  of  economists  and  technicians  but 
seduced  artists  as  well,  who  gave  free  rein  to  visions  of  a  fully 
mechanized  and  electrified  life  after  the  icy,  dark  winters  of  the 
war  years.  In  1920,  for  example,  Klutsis  created  his  first 
photomontage:  a  photograph  of  Lenin  between  the  dark  circle 
of  the  "old  world"  full  of  prisons,  alcohol,  and  whips  and  the 
bright  "new  world"  with  the  crystal  cubes  of  Suprematist 
architecture.  These  buildings  of  the  new  world  are  inscribed 
with  the  word  "electrification."  (See  also  his  study,  from  the 
same  year,  for  the  poster,  Elektrifikatsiia  vsei  strany 
[Electrification  of  the  Entire  Country],  plate  no.  308.) 

Two  years  later,  in  1922,  when  "production  art"  began  to 
venture  out  into  real  life,  Klutsis  was  the  first  among  the 
Constructivists  to  design  his  constructions  for  practical, 
everyday  purposes.  One  of  his  large-scale  projects  for 
propaganda  kiosks  included  a  banner  running  around  the 
construction  proclaiming,  "The  development  of  industry 
brings  salvation."  These  agitprop  stands  were  successful  models 
of  the  Constructivist  concept  of  "utilitarian"  objects.  Their 
transparent,  light  framework  construction  fulfills  the  principle 
of  economy.  The  utilization  of  all  forms  for  set  functions,  the 
modular  structure,  and  the  multi-functional  equipment  with  a 
picture  screen,  loudspeakers,  a  bookstall,  poster  holders,  a 
speaker's  rostrum,  and  so  on  make  these  structures  convincing 
examples  of  how  the  Constructivist  notion  of  aesthetics  and 
function  could  be  put  into  practice  (plate  nos.  109,  m-113). 

In  his  summary  of  the  Inkhuk  members'  joint  effort  to 
clarify  the  term  "construction,"  Babichev  wrote  on  September 
5,  1921,  that  all  the  Inkhuk  artists  and  theorists  had 
unanimously  concluded 

that  construction  in  artistic  representation  does  not  exist  and  that 
everything  that  was  previously  called  construction  or  pretended  to  be 
construction  belonged  to  an  outwardly  aesthetic  order.  Genuine 
construction  appears  only  in  perfect,  utilitarian  products.  This 

conclusion  coincided  with  a  sudden,  forceful  awareness  of  the  future  of 
industry,  which  so  far  has  managed  without  artists  and  threatened  to 
fill  everything  with  purely  utilitarian  buildings  and  objects  that  were 
completely  unresolved  as  to  their  ability  to  orient  perception. 

The  prospect  of  participating  in  the  organization  of  life  by 
organizing  objects,  buildings,  and  institutions  was  inspiring.  In  the 
discussion  it  was  generally  held  that  there  was  no  acceptable  reason  to 
distinguish  between  the  terms  "artistic"  and  "utilitarian"  if  the  object 
in  question  is  constructed  throughout. 

This  account  neatly  sums  up  the  essential  characteristics  of 
the  Constructivist  object  in  its  final  utilitarian  metamorphosis. 
The  extremely  high  standards  implied  in  the  definition  are 
striking:  the  object  must  be  "perfect"  both  in  appearance  and 
substance.  Mere  surface  treatment  can  result  in  no  more  than  a 
faktura  object.  Consequently,  a  Constructivist  object  is  not  a 
designed  surface  but  a  three-dimensional,  functional  structure 
that  is  distinguished  from  common  utilitarian  objects  by  its 
perceptibility,  i.e.,  it  keeps  stimulating  the  perception  of  its 
user.  Furthermore,  the  Constructivist  object  must  be 
"constructed  throughout,"  meaning  that  its  structure  is 
systematically  designed  in  all  its  details  and  that  its  body  is 
identical  with  this  structure. 

The  ideal  Constructivist  object  in  the  final  Inkhuk 
definition  is  hence  a  systematically  constructed  structure  that 
fulfills  a  practical  purpose  and  while  being  used  is  also 
consciously  perceived  by  its  consumer.  The  goal  is,  in  short,  a 
thing  of  perfection. 

The  Resurgence  of  the  Subject 

I  would  argue  that  the  structure  of  this  entirely  constructed 
object  is  similar  to  the  structure  of  human  consciousness.  If 
this  is  the  case,  the  subject  which  was  driven  out  of 
Constructivism  by  "objectification"  reappeared  in  the 
congruence  of  object  and  subject.  Its  form  had  changed,  of 
course,  since  subjectivity  was  present  in  the  object  not  as  the 
externalization  of  an  empirical  subject  but  in  the  form  of  a 
transcendental  subject. 

Ideally,  the  structure  of  the  Constructivist  object  is  the  pure 
product  of  a  conscious  operation  with  formal  elements, 
implemented  according  to  a  systematic  design  method. 
Consequently,  the  finished  construction  is  the  materialization 
of  consciousness  in  a  spatial  structure  that  is  unadulterated  by 
the  properties  of  the  materials  used. 

Rodchenko's  hanging  spatial  constructions  as  well  as 
Ioganson's  spatial  constructions  come  very  close  to  this 
Constructivist  ideal.  The  definition  proposed  by  Babichev 
declared  absolute  awareness  in  the  production  of  structures  to 
be  the  principal  criterion  of  artistic  value  and  usefulness,  since 
the  methodical  design  and  implementation  of  a  construction 
made  it  the  product  of  real  work. 

This  notion  of  artistic  creation  as  a  paradigm  of  conscious 
work  is  in  direct  opposition  to  the  earlier  view — shared  by  the 
Suprematists  and  non-objective  artists  before  1921 — of  artistic 
production  as  intuitive  creation  derived  from  the  unconscious. 
The  sudden  turn  had  been  prepared  by  the  Formalist  school 
with  its  conception  of  art  as  a  method  and  of  artists  as 
professional  masters  in  their  field. 

During  the  formative  phase  of  Suprematism,  Malevich 
described  the  relationship  between  rational  thinking  and 
intuition  to  Matiushin  in  a  letter  of  July  3,  1913:  "We  have 
come  to  a  point  where  we  can  dismiss  the  sense  and  logic  of  the 
old  reason.  But  we  must  seek  to  recognize  the  sense  and  logic 
of  a  new,  already  emerging  reason  which,  compared  to  the  old, 
might  even  be  a  'supra-reason.'"  In  his  review  of  the  0.10 
exhibition  (Petrograd,  1915— 16),  Matiushin  adopted  this 
concept  of  a  logic  of  the  unconscious  which  becomes  manifest 


in  non-objective  creation  and  reveals  its  logical  structure  to  the 
viewer;  "suprasense"  denotes  a  "new,  creative,  intuitive  reason 
that  has  superseded  unenlightened  intuition."'4 

The  Formalist  linguists  then  turned  this  logic  of  the 
unconscious  into  an  operation,  perceiving  it  not  as  the 
structure  of  the  language  of  the  unconscious  but  solely  as  the 
procedural  logic  of  the  treatment  of  material.  This  concept 
clearly  reflects  the  analyst's,  not  the  producer's,  viewpoint. 

For  the  Constructivist  producer,  on  the  other  hand,  there  is 
a  homologous  relationship  between  the  logical  structure  of  his 
subconscious  and  the  structure  of  the  construction  he  creates.  If 
the  structure  is  completely  systematic  in  its  inner  logic  and 
entirely  transparent  in  its  making  or  functional  modes,  i.e.,  if 
the  object  is  "constructed  throughout,"  it  appears  as  a 
homologous  model  of  the  producer's  unconscious  of  which  he 
has  become  fully  aware.  The  artistic  subject  becomes  as 
transparent  as  his  creation.  The  previously  impenetrable  dark 
of  his  subconscious  and  body  is  illuminated  and  rendered 
transparent  through  the  exposure  of  the  logic  of  their 
functional  modes. 

When  there  is  nothing  remaining  unenlightened  in  the 
subject  and  he  has  become  completely  aware  of  himself,  he 
controls  the  language  of  his  unconscious  and  the  mechanisms 
of  his  bodily  functions.  He  is  able  to  organize  his  unconscious 
and  his  body  rationally  according  to  set  goals,  without  having 
to  heed  and  follow  the  demands  of  his  inner  voice.  This 
thought  must  have  struck  the  Constructivists  in  1921  with 
sudden  force,  as  Rodchenko's  remarks  in  "The  Line"  show: 
"Until  now,  life,  this  simple  thing,  has  not  been  properly  seen; 
one  did  not  know  that  it  was  so  simple  and  clear,  that  one 
merely  needed  to  organize  it  and  free  it  from  all  excess.  To 
work  for  life,  not  for  palaces  or  temples,  cemeteries  or 

Transparent  to  himself,  the  subject  leaves  all  places  of 
memory  and  fate  behind;  the  light  of  reason  has  completely 
penetrated  and  exposed  them  for  what  they  are — the  museum 
as  a  place  of  unresolved  desires  and  petrified  experiences,  as  a 
depository  of  the  collective  unconscious  and  memory;  the 
cemetery  as  a  place  of  sorrow  and  surrender  of  the  body  and 
mind  to  death;  the  palace  as  a  place  of  unenlightened  and 
consequently  false  pleasures;  the  temple  as  a  place  of  blind 
faith,  obscure  feelings,  and  nebulous  hopes.  The  self-aware 
subject  enters  into  life  "to  work  among,  for,  and  with  all 
others,"  i.e.,  to  organize  his  own,  completely  transparent  life 
and  the  lives  of  the  others  through  the  "constructive 

The  methodical,  rational  organization  of  formal  elements  in 
a  systematically  structured  construction  amounts  to  a 
preparatory  model  for  the  organization  of  life.  Since  it  is 
nothing  but  the  visualization  of  its  own  conscious  creation,  it 
is  structurally  akin  to  the  self-reflection  of  a  person's  self- 
consciousness.  Self-consciousness,  in  the  sense  of  an  ego  that 
has  become  aware  of  itself,  also  knows  the  division  into  a 
producing  subject  and  a  produced  object  which  in  itself  is  a 
subject,  i.e.,  the  conscious  ego.  The  self,  as  prior  to  the 
conscious  ego,  can  only  recognize  itself  by  reflecting  itself  in 
the  ego  and  thereby  delimiting  itself  the  way  a  frame  delimits 
a  mirror.  Only  in  the  delimited  form  of  a  conscious  and 
therefore  defined  object  (the  conscious  ego)  can  the  self 
experience  itself  as  an  unlimited  and  determining  subject. 
Only  by  observing  itself  in  the  creation  of  itself  can  an 
individual's  self-consciousness  recognize,  and  ultimately 
produce,  itself. 

By  the  same  token,  the  entirely  constructed  and  transparent 
construction  observes  its  own  production,  or  rather  its  own 
finished  production,  since  the  Constructivist  thing  is  rendered 
conscious  throughout  but  does  not  have  a  consciousness  of  its 

own.  It  thus  possesses  the  structure  of  self-consciousness 
without  being  conscious. 

Only  in  the  mediated  identity  with  the  conscious  ego — the 
"differential  indifference"  of  Post-Structuralism — does  the 
unconscious  or  preconscious  self  produce  itself  and  become 
aware  of  itself  as  producer.  In  Rodchenko's  hanging  spatial 
constructions  and  Ioganson's  spatial  constructions,  this 
differential  indifference  is  seen  in  one  object.  This  object 
presents  itself  as  a  distinct,  systematically  constructed  and 
unified  structure,  but  at  the  same  time  it  is  clearly  recognized 
as  only  one  variant  out  of  an  infinite  series  of  structural 
combinations.  From  this  perspective,  the  unique  construction 
appears  as  a  contingent  unity  that  would  change  its  structure 
under  altered  conditions. 

The  absoluteness  and  monadic  unity  of  the  formal  elements' 
reference  system  is  vividly  emphasized  by  the  uniformity  of  the 
construction.  Like  the  structure  of  pure  self-consciousness  freed 
from  the  gravity-bound  body  of  the  empirical  ego,  the  hanging 
spatial  constructions  hover  in  space  as  allegories  of  the 
transcendental  ego. 

Differential  indifference  is  also  strikingly  apparent  in 
Lissitzky's  and  Klutsis's  paintings  of  constructions.  Hovering 
freely  in  the  picture  space,  the  axiometric  structures  have  an 
effect  of  differential  indifference  because  each  time  the  viewer 
focuses  on  their  identical  elements  they  switch  into  a  spatially 
inverse  structure  and  thereby  escape  fixation.  In  the  viewer's 
perception,  the  opposite  spatial  constellations  thus  merge  into 
one  indissoluble  unity.  The  flat  axiometric  constructions 
integrate  two  or  even  more  views  of  the  same  formal 
framework  into  one  homogeneous  but  oscillating  structure, 
provoking  a  continuous  shift  of  the  viewer's  perceptual 
positions — which  can  be  experienced  as  a  perpetual  alternation 
between  the  self's  role  as  subject  and  the  ego's  role  as  object  in 
the  production  of  self-consciousness. 

In  works  such  as  Klutsis's  collage  Dinamicheskii  gorod 
(Dynamic  City.  1919,  plate  no.  309)  or  Lissitzky's  Eight-Position 
Proun  (before  1924),  the  configuration  of  the  formal  elements 
remains  the  same  while  the  optical  structure  changes 
substantially  with  each  incremental  turn.  The  same  structural 
principle  also  distinguishes  several  of  Klutsis's  drawings  of 
agitprop  kiosks,  which  at  first  sight  look  like  rationally 
organized  construction  plans.  But  a  more  detailed  look  reveals 
that  the  spatial  relationships  are  deliberately  contradictory: 
optical  illusions  result  in  "impossible  figures"  which  could 
never  be  transferred  from  the  drawing  into  real  space. 

The  ambiguity  of  the  two-  and  three-dimensional 
structures  was  carried  over  into  the  designs  of  multifunctional 
objects  that  became  a  trademark  of  Constructivist  production 
art.  The  first  issue  of  Lef,  the  Constructivist  house  organ  from 
1923  to  1928,  presented  works  by  students  of  Rodchenko's  in 
the  Metalworking  Faculty  of  Vkhutemas  (the  Higher  Artistic- 
Technical  Workshops).  One  of  those  pieces  was  a  "bed  but  also 
a  chair  and  a  desk,"  since  "a  thing  must  perform  several 
different  functions,"  as  the  accompanying  commentary  put  it. 
The  first  exhibition  of  the  Metalworking  Faculty  in  1923 
included  a  number  of  such   multi-functional  objects  invented 
by  the  students  and  their  teacher.  In  her  account  of  the 
exhibition,  Stepanova  distinguished  three  types  of  objects: 

•An  object  that  is  fit  for  use  in  motion,  i.e.,  organized  like  a 

means  of  production  (for  example,  a  mobile  bookcase  or 

movie  theater  that  can  be  used  anywhere) 
•An  object  that  can  be  dismantled  and  easily  stored  after  use 

(such  as  a  kiosk  or  bed) 
•An  object  for  private  use  that  can  fill  functions  in  the 

communal  apartment  (for  example,  the  bed-chair-desk 

mentioned  above) 


The  concept  of  multifunctional  furniture  emerged  from  the 
transformative  principle  of  the  hanging  spatial  constructions 
and  the  constructions  made  of  identical  elements.  Whether 
Ioganson  further  developed  his  spatial  constructions  in  this 
direction  while  working  in  a  factory  is  unknown.  Klutsis 
employed  the  constructive  principle  of  planes  intersecting  at 
right  angles,  which  he  had  developed  in  his  paintings  of 
"construction,"  in  numerous  designs  for  information  stands, 
shelf  systems,  and  other  functional  constructions. 

The  design  and  production  of  multifunctional  objects 
constituted  a  major  part  of  the  work  done  in  Rodchenko's 
workshop  in  the  Metalworking  Faculty  and  to  a  lesser  degree 
in  the  Woodworking  Faculty  at  Vkhutemas  throughout  the 
1920s.  The  furniture  for  the  reading  room  of  a  workers'  club, 
presented  at  the  1925  Exposition  Internationale  des  arts  decoratifs  et 
indus triels  modernes  {International  Exhibition  of  Contemporary 
Decorative  and  Industrial  Art)  in  Paris  is  a  typical  example  of 
this  design  concept.  (In  the  mid-i920s,  Rodchenko  also  worked 
in  the  Moscow  Proletkul't  workshop  on  transformable 
furniture  for  workers'  clubs.)  The  reading  room  is  equipped 
with  movable  bookcases,  folding  counter  tops  for  multiple  use, 
revolving  drums  for  photo  exhibitions,  and  a  collapsible 
construction  that  includes  a  speaker's  platform,  a  bulletin 
board,  and  a  projection  screen  for  slides  and  films.  Nearly  all 
the  furnishings  are  "built  on  a  principle  that  makes  it  possible 
to  unfold  the  object  on  an  ample  space  for  work  and  to  fold  it 
down  into  compact  proportions  after  work.  Comrade 
Rodchenko  considers  this  principle  a  typical  quality  of  the 
modern  object.  For  five  years  he  has  been  conducting  the  work 
of  the  Metalworking  Faculty  at  Vkhutemas  according  to  this 
principle,  and  over  the  past  few  years  the  dynamically 
organized  object  has  gained  increasing  acceptance  and  thus 
proved  its  viability  and  topical  significance." 

This  enthusiastic  commentary  by  Stepanova  appeared  in 
1926  in  Sovremennaia  arkbitektura  (Contemporary  Architecture),  the 
organ  of  OSA  (the  Union  of  Contemporary  Architects).36  As  the 
magazine's  editor  in  chief,  Gan  regularly  published  the  most 
recent  works  of  the  Constructivist  production  artists,  including 
Zakhar  Bykov,  Miller,  Morozov,  Shestakov,  Stepanova,  and 
Sokolov,  most  of  them  students  of  Rodchenko's  at  Vkhutemas. 
Their  works  followed  the  same  principles  of  variability  and 
multiple  function  Rodchenko  had  developed  in  the  early  1920s. 

In  the  combination  furniture  with  complex  functions,  the 
Constructivist  ideal  of  the  object  that  is  "constructed 
throughout"  materialized  in  real  life.  As  prototypes,  they 
embody  the  idea  of  a  new,  objective  reality  that  does  not 
consist  of  massive  objects  and  monumental  buildings  made  to 
last  and  exist  independent  of  people.  The  Constructivist 
conception  of  the  object — and  also  of  furniture  and 
architecture — rests  on  the  idea  of  the  infinitely  transformable 
structure  made  of  minimal  material  elements.  The 
transformation  of  each  structure  leads  to  constantly  new 
functions.  This  structural  metamorphosis  enables  the  object  to 
take  a  different  shape  with  each  reassigned  function  while  its 
material  elements  remain  the  same. 

In  the  Constructivist  universe,  objects  exist  solely  as  organs 
of  human  activity.  They  adjust  to  people's  actions,  expand  and 
die  with  them,  while  constantly  renewing  their  own  shape  and 
function.  The  Constructivist  objects  are  congruent 
counterparts  of  the  subject.  Therein  lies  their  Utopian 
potential.  Ideally,  they  would  have  transformed  material  reality 
into  an  unrestricted  space  in  which  free  people  could  act.  But 
in  reality,  they  contributed  to  the  total  mobilization  of  the 
people,  whose  lives  were  sucked  into  the  modernization  process 
and  restructured  to  the  beat  of  machines. 

The  design  theorist  David  Arkin  remarked  at  the  end  of  the 
1920s  that  among  the  prototypes  for  workers'  apartments 

developed  at  the  Metalworking  Faculty,  the  most  frequent 
piece  of  furniture  was  the  "multipurpose  model,  the  divan- 
table  or  the  chair-bed.  But  these  outwardly  efficient  models 
solve  in  only  a  superficial  manner  the  task  of  using  the  living 
space  with  maximum  economy.  Therefore,  the  enthusiasm  for 
combination  furniture  apparent  in  the  works  of  the  young 
Constructivists  is  by  no  means  a  positive  development."37 

This  critical  comment  by  a  Constructivist  partisan  shows 
that  the  designers  of  multifunctional  furniture  were  not 
exclusively  or  even  primarily  concerned  with  the  actual 
practical  use  of  their  creations.  They  held  on  to  the  principle  of 
the  "object  constructed  throughout"  postulated  by  the  Inkhuk 
Constructivists.  A  case  can  be  made  that  they  were  only 
marginally  interested  in  producing  functional,  inexpensive,  or 
comfortable  furniture  for  workers'  apartments  or  clubs.  For 
them,  what  was  really  at  stake  was  the  life  or  death  of  art  in  the 
painful  rebirth  of  postrevolutionary  society. 

In  a  lecture  at  Inkhuk  in  March  1922,  Kushner  declared: 
"Not  only  the  object  is  exhausted.  Its  functions  too  are  dying 
off.  It  is  thus  being  transformed  into  a  useless  thing  while 
remaining  materially  intact."  Under  circumstances  where  art  in 
its  old,  "individualist,"  bourgeois  form  had  lost  its  function, 
the  Constructivists'  survival  strategy  was  to  focus  on  the  dying 
object  in  order  to  revive  it  and  thereby  revive  art.  The  rebirth 
of  art  after  the  Revolution  could  only  happen  as  a  rebirth  of 
objects,  since  the  individual  and  his  artistic  subjectivity  were 
not  granted  that  right.  The  translation  of  the  object  into  the 
subjective  form  of  the  transcendental  ego,  which  has  neither 
flesh  nor  blood,  mass  nor  faktura  but  exists  only  as  the  "cold 
structure"  of  self-consciousness,  constitutes  the  greatness  of 
this  materialized  Utopia  where  the  subject  is  identical  with 
material  work  and  the  objects  it  produces.  Yet  at  the  same 
time,  this  Utopian  construction  inevitably  failed  as  a  strategy 
for  the  rebirth  of  art,  as  it  waived  the  critical  distance  from  life, 
surrendering  to  its  restraining  forces  and  sometimes  even 
strengthening  them. 

In  1913,  years  before  the  revolutionary  changes  in  society, 
Shklovskii  made  an  outline  for  his  lecture  on  "The 
Resurrection  of  the  Word,"  a  kind  of  prelude  to  all 
Constructivist  theories  of  art:  "The  word-image  and  its 
petrification  .  .  .  The  death  of  objects  .  .  .  The  theory  of 
reversal.  The  task  of 'Futurism' — the  revival  of  objects,  to 
return  the  experience  of  the  world  to  the  people  .  .  .  The 
resurrection  of  objects."'8  These  preparatory  notes  read  like  a 
history  of  Constructivism  in  the  1920s — with  the  vital 
difference  that  Shklovskii  referred  to  the  death,  revival,  and 
resurrection  of  objects  only  in  terms  of  art  and  perception  and 
warned  against  mistaking  art  for  life.  Later,  in  an  article  in  Art 
of  the  Commune,  Shklovskii  explicitly  repeated  this  warning 
with  regard  to  the  theory  of  production  art,  but  the 
Constructivists  ignored  him.  They  crossed  the  aesthetic 
boundary  between  art  and  life  in  order  to  resurrect  the  material 
and  vital  things.  They  gave  them  new  forms.  But  art  died  in 
the  process. 

Could  things  have  turned  out  differently  in  those 
perturbing  times? 

It  may  have  been  possible  to  hibernate  in  the  "cold 
structures"  of  Constructivism  but  one  couldn't  live  in  them. 

— Translated,  from  the  German,  by  Jiirgen  Riehle 



This  essay  is  for  Arthur  Lehning. 

i.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Vse-opyty,"  1921,  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and 
V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 

2.  Varvara  Stepanova,  "On  Constructivism,"  in  Alexander 
Lavrentiev,  Stepanova,  trans.  Wendy  Salmond  (Cambridge, 
Mass.:  MIT  Press,  1988),  p.  175. 

3.  See  Jane  A.  Sharp,  "The  Critical  Reception  of  the  0.10 
Exhibition:  Malevich  and  Benua,"  in  this  volume,  for  an 
account  of  their  differences. 

4.  Novaia  zhizn',  March  27  and  April  9,  1918. 

5.  Revoliutsionnoe  tvorchestvo  1-2  (1918). 

6.  Izvestiia,  April  16,  1918. 

7.  Anarkbtia,  April  II,  1918. 

8.  Anarkhiia,  March  30,  1918. 

9.  Anarkhiia,  March  28,  1918. 

10.  IZO.  Vestnik  Otdela  izobrazitel'nykh  iskusstv  N.K.P.  I 
(March  10,  1921). 

11.  P/amia  35  (1919),  p.  13. 

12.  Nikolai  Punin,  quoted  in  M.  L-in,  "Miting  ob  iskusstve," 
Iskusstvo  kommuny  1  (December  7,  1918),  reprinted  as  "Miting  ob 
iskusstve  (24  XI  1918  g.  v  Petrograde),"  in  I.  Matsa,  ed., 
Sovetskoe  iskusstvo  za  l$  let.  Mater  ialy  i  dokumentatsiia  (Moscow 
and  Leningrad:  Ogiz-Izogiz,  1933),  pp.  175-76. 

13.  Nikolai  Punin,  "O  novykh  gruppirovkakh,"  Iskusstvo 
kommuny  10  (February  9,  1919)  as  translated  in  Larissa  Zhadova, 
Malevich:  Suprematism  and  Revolution  in  Russian  Art.  ipio-ipjo. 
trans.  Alexander  Lieven  (London:  Thames  and  Hudson,  1982), 
p.  322. 

14.  Birzhevye  vedomosti,  June  23,  1917. 

15.  Vechernie  ogni  2  (April  1918). 

16.  Novaia  zhizn',  April  18  and  May  1,  1918. 

17.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "The  Line,"  trans.  James  West,  in  Art 
Into  Life:  Russian  Constructivism,  IP14-IP32,  catalogue  for 
exhibition  organized  by  the  Henry  Art  Gallery,  University  of 
Washington,  Seattle,  the  Walker  Art  Center,  Minneapolis,  and 
the  State  Tret'yakov  Gallery,  Moscow  (New  York:  Rizzoli, 
1990),  p.  71. 

18.  Iskusstvo  kommuny,  December  15,  1918. 

19.  Iskusstvo  kommuny,  January  12,  1919. 

20.  V.  I.  Lenin,  "The  Immediate  Tasks  of  the  Soviet 
Government,"  in  The  Lenin  Anthology,  ed.  Robert  C.  Tucker 
(New  York:  W  W.  Norton,  1975). 

21.  Iskusstvo  kommuny,  February  23,  1919.  See  also  Svetlana 
Dzhafarova,  "The  Creation  of  the  Museum  of  Painterly 
Culture,"  in  this  volume. 

22.  "Deklaratsiia  Otdela  izobrazitel'nykh  iskusstv  i 
khudozhestvennoi  promyshlennosti  po  voprosu  o  printsipakh 
muzeevedeniia,  priniataia  Kollegiei  otdela  v  zasedanii  7  fevralia 
1919  g.,"  Izobrazitel'noe  iskusstvo  1  (1919),  p.  85. 

23.  Varvara  Stepanova,  diary,  March  27,  1919,  A.  M.  Rodchenko 
and  V.  F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow. 

24.  Iskusstvo  7  (August  2,  1919). 

25.  Zhizn' iskusstva.  September  20,  1923.  Shklovskii's  essay  was 
written  in  1920. 

26.  Desiataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka.  Bespredmetnoe  tvorchestvo  i 
suprematizm  (Moscow:  Otdel  IZO  Narkomprosa,  1919),  pp. 

27.  Veshch  '/Gegenstand/Objet  3  (1922). 

28.  "Problemy  izucheniia  literatury  i  iazyka,"  Novyi  Lefix 
(1928),  pp.  36-37. 

29.  Iskusstvo  kommuny  4  (February  22,  1919).  On  Rodchenko's 
Linearism,  see  Aleksandr  Lavrent'ev,  "What  Is  Linearism?"  in 
this  volume. 

30.  Rodchenko,  "Line,"  p.  73. 

31.  Stepanova,  diary,  March  27,  1919. 

32.  Desiataia  gosudarstvennaia  vystavka. 

33.  Stepanova,  "On  Constructivism,"  p.  174. 

34.  M.  Matiushin,  "O  vystavke  'poslednikh  futuristov,'" 
Ocharovannyi  strannik.  Al'manakh  vesennii,  1916. 

35.  A.  M.  Rodchenko,  "Liniia,"  1921,  A.  M.  Rodchenko  and  V. 
F.  Stepanova  Archive,  Moscow.  This  passage  is  not  included  in 
the  published  English  translation  cited  above. 

36.  Sovremennaia  arkhitektura  1  (1926),  p.  36. 

37.  Revoliutsiia  i  kul'tura  11  (1929). 

38.  V.  Shklovskii,  Zhili-byli  (Berlin,  1923),  p.  306. 


fig.  I 

Larionov  (center)  in  the  hospital  after  being  wounded  in  World  War  I, 


The  Third  Path  to 

Evgenii  Kovtun 

Western  scholars  have  sometimes  failed  to  make  a  distinction 
between  Abstractionism  and  non-objectivity,  and  use  the  terms 
interchangeably.  Yet  Vasilii  Kandinskii  and  Kazimir  Malevich 
are  linked  only  by  non-figuration — at  which  they  arrive  by 
disparate,  quite  unshared  paths.  The  nonrepresentational 
element  in  their  work  grows  out  of  different  roots;  Kandinskii 
and  Malevich  stand  in  as  sharp  an  opposition  as  Hume  and 
Hegel  do  in  philosophy. 

The  abstract  artist  proceeds  from  the  particular  to  the 
general,  turning  away  from  the  tangibility  of  objects.  In 
Kandinskii  one  may  often  observe  a  "semi-figurative"  sketch 
gradually  being  translated  into  a  pure  abstraction.  This  is  the 
path  "from  the  bottom  up." 

Non-objectivity  comes  about  by  an  opposite  process. 
The  artist  starts  from  general  structural  regularities  that  are 
universal  in  character  and  makes  them  tangible  in  non- 
objective  forms.  This  is  the  path  "from  the  top  down,"  from 
the  general  to  the  particular.  Hence  there  are  no  natural  or 
earthly  realia,  not  even  any  that  are  "cleansed"  of  figuration, 
concealed  behind  Malevich's  non-objective  forms.  Non- 
objectivity  "populates"  space  with  a  new  reality  which  comes 
into  being  according  to  laws  analogous  to  those  of  nature. 

Contemporary  scholars  rightly  distinguish  two  currents 
within  the  movement  toward  non-figuration:  that  of 
Kandinskii,  i.e.,  what  could  be  called  expressive  abstraction, 
and  that  of  Malevich,  i.e.,  geometric  abstraction.  Artists  of  the 
one  persuasion — in  the  words  of  Lev  Iudin,  a  pupil  of 
Malevich's — prefer  to  "experience"  (thus  Kandinskii),  the 
others,  to  "construct"  (thus  Malevich  and  Mondrian).  Yet  even 
at  the  time,  a  third,  middle,  path  to  non-objectivity  could  be 
discerned  in  Russian  art;  its  adherents  attempted  to  reconcile 
opposing  trends,  wanting  simultaneously  to  experience  and  to 
construct.  This  was  the  path  first  taken  by  Mikhail  Larionov 
with  his  Rayism. 

Art  historians  have  caused  quite  a  muddle  in  pinpointing 
the  origin  of  Rayism,  dating  it  as  far  back  as  1909 — a  time 
when  Larionov  was  producing  Primitivist  works.  Iurii 
Annenkov,  writing  in  1966,  was  the  first  to  set  out  a  spurious 
chronology  of  Larionov 's  work:  "Nineteen  nine  was  the  decisive 
year  in  the  artistic  biography  of  Larionov  and  Goncharova,  and 
in  the  destinies  of  art  in  general:  in  that  year  both  exhibited 
paintings  which  laid  the  foundation  of  the  first  abstract 
movement,  dubbed  'Rayism'  (Larionov 's  term)  .  .  .  Numbers  of 
'Rayist'  paintings  by  Larionov  and  Goncharova  appeared, 
between  1909  and  1912,  at  the  avant-garde  exhibitions  of  Jack 
of  Diamonds,  Free  Aesthetics,  and  Donkey's  Tail."'  As  it 
happened,  Annenkov  listed  precisely  those  exhibitions  which 
did  not  show  Rayist  works  and  managed  to  keep  silent  about 
those  which  had  them  in  abundance. 

Following  Annenkov,  other  writers  added  their  voices  to 
the  confusion.  Waldemar  George,  author  of  a  1966  monograph 
on  Larionov,  moved  the  Rayist  work  Steklo  {Glass)  from  the 
1912  Mir  iskusstva  (World  of  Art)  exhibition  to  1909.  We  note 
the  same  antedating  in  the  catalogue  of  the  1969  Larionov  show 
in  New  York.  The  author  of  the  catalogue  essay,  Francois 
Daulte,  headlined  one  of  its  sections  "The  Rayonniste  Period 
(1909— 1912)"  and  advanced  the  fiction  that  Larionov  had  made 
his  first  declaration  on  Rayism  in  1910  in  A.  Kraft's  studio.2 
Camilla  Gray,  who  had  access  to  Russian  sources,  did  not  make 
such  gross  misstatements,  but  even  she  assigned  Glass  to  1909 
and  had  it  exhibited  in  a  one-day  Larionov  show  which  took 
place  in  1911  at  the  Society  of  Free  Aesthetics  in  Moscow.  Yet 
among  the  124  canvases  listed  in  the  catalogue  of  that 
exhibition  neither  Glass  nor  any  other  Rayist  painting  appears. 

What  was  Larionov 's  reaction  to  the  misdating  of  his 
works?  As  indulgent  as  could  be;  he  even  abetted  it.  As  early  as 
in  the  catalogue  of  the  Exposition  Natalia  Gontcharova  et  Michel 


Larionov  held  in  June  1914  at  the  Galerie  Paul  Guillaume  in 
Paris,  he  changed  the  dates  of  many  works,  assigning  them  to 
earlier  times.  Larionov  was  inarguably  among  the  pioneers  of 
non-figurative  painting  (in  the  1940s,  which  saw  a  wave  of 
enthusiasm  for  Abstractionism,  researchers  sought  out 
"precursors"  of  the  movement;  Michel  Seuphor's  1949  book 
about  the  origins  of  abstract  art  recalled  the  by-then-forgotten 
Rayism)3  and  was  not  averse  to  being  ranked  as  the  very  first. 
In  Larionov 's  solo  shows  in  New  York  (1969)  and  Brussels 
(1976),  his  Abstraktnaia  kartina  {Abstract  Painting)  was  assigned 
to  1907  (!) — to  a  time,  that  is,  when  the  artist  was  interested  in 
signboards  and  was  painting  his  Parikmakhery  {Barbers). 
Abstract  Painting,  executed  in  the  spirit  of  "painterly  Purism," 
is  clearly  a  work  of  the  early  1920s,  and  entirely  out  of  place 
with  Larionov 's  Primitivist  works. 

The  earliest  "trace"  of  Rayism  can  be  observed  in  Larionov 's 
illustrations  to  a  small  book  by  Aleksei  Kruchenykh, 
Starinnaia  liubov' {Old-Time  Love),  which  was  published  in  mid- 
October  1912.  Larionov  thereafter  showed  Rayist  canvases 
simultaneously  at  two  exhibitions:  Glass  and  Etiud  lucbistyi 
{Rayist  Study)  at  the  World  of  Art  exhibition  in  November 
1912,  and  Luchistaia  kolbasa  i  skumbriia  {Rayist  Sausage  and 
Mackerel)  at  the  Soiuz  molodezhi  (Union  of  Youth)  exhibition 
which  opened  on  December  4th.  Prior  to  this  there  had  been 
no  mention  of  Rayism  either  in  the  press  or  in  exhibition 

The  most  representative  showings  of  Rayism  were  at  the 
Mishen '{Target,  Moscow,  1913),  No.  4.  Futuristy,  lucbisty,  primitiv 
{No.  4:  Futurists,  Rayists,  Primitives,  Moscow,  1914),  and  Moskva. 
1915  god (Moscow:  The  Year  1915,  Moscow,  1915)  exhibitions.  By 
this  time,  Natal'ia  Goncharova,  Aleksandr  Shevchenko,  and 
Sergei  Romanovich  were  already  working  by  the  canons  of 
Rayism.  A  special  role  in  the  rise  of  Rayism  was  played  by  a 
remarkable  painter  of  Larionov 's  group,  Mikhail  Le-Dantiu. 
Il'ia  Zdanevich  implies  in  an  unpublished  article  of  1918  that 
Le-Dantiu  was  the  force  behind  Larionov 's  Rayism.  He  writes: 
"Rayism  is  taking  shape — the  unsuccessful  realization  of  a 
colleague's  brilliant  discoveries."4  And  indeed,  in  Le-Dantiu's 
paintings  of  1912  and  1913  one  may  make  out  the  appearance  of 
Rayist  structures. 

In  1913  Larionov  published  a  brochure,  Luchizm  {Rayism), 
and  an  article,  "Luchistaia  zhivopis'"  ("Rayist  Painting"),  in  the 
Oslinyi  khvost  i  mishen' {Donkey's  Tail  and  Target)  miscellany.  The 
artist  laid  down  the  main  tenets  of  his  theory  most  succinctly 
in  a  pamphlet  entitled  Luchizm  Larionova  {The  Rayism  of 
Larionov),  which  was  distributed  to  the  public  at  a  debate  at 
the  Target  exhibition  and  from  which  the  following  is 

Doctrine  of  irradiability.  Radiation  of  reflected  light  (color  dust). 
Reflectivity.  Realist  Rayism,  depicting  existing  forms.  Rejection  of 
forms  in  painting  as  existing  apart  from  their  imaging  in  the  eye. 
Provisional  representation  of  the  ray  by  the  line.  Erasure  of  the 
barriers  between  nature  and  what  is  referred  to  as  the  surface  of  the 
painting.  The  rudiments  of  Rayism  in  antecedent  arts.  The  doctrine  of 
the  creation  of  new  forms.  Spatial  form.  Form — which  arises  from  the 
intersection  of  rays  from  various  objects — isolated  by  the  volition  of  the 
artist.  Conveyance  of  sensations  of  the  non-finite  and  the 
transtemporal.  The  structuring  of  paint  according  to  the  laws  of 
painting  (i.e.,  ft/faktura  {density}  and  color).  The  natural  downfall 
of  all  preceding  art,  which,  thanks  to  Rayist  forms,  has  become,  like 
life,  merely  an  object  for  the  artist's  observation.1 

Rayism,  according  to  Larionov 's  thinking,  would  sever 
painting  from  objectivity  and  turn  it  into  an  autonomous  and 
self-sufficient  art  of  color.  The  painting  would  cease  to  be  a 
reflection  of  the  world  of  objects — it  would  become  itself  an 

object,  a  part  of  reality  aesthetically  organized  by  the  artist. 

We  do  not  see  objects  themselves — they  are  a  kind  of 
Kantian  "thing  in  itself — but  we  perceive  aggregates  of  rays 
emanating  from  objects,  which  are  depicted  in  the  painting  as 
lines  of  color.  Larionov  divides  Rayism  into  a  Realist  species, 
which  retains  traces  of  objectivity,  and  a  wholly 
nonrepresentational  species,  in  which  external  links  with  the 
visible  world  have  been  sundered. 

Larionov 's  tenet  on  light  and  color  is  of  particular  interest. 
Light  refracted  through  particles  of  matter  causes  coloration,  or 
"color  dust,"  as  the  artist  calls  it.  Here  he  anticipates  the  view 
expressed  by  the  philosopher  Pavel  Florenskii  in  1919: 

Thus  light  is  continuous.  Not  so  optical  media,  which  become 
saturated  with  light  and  pass  it  on  to  us:  they  are  not  continuous,  they 
are  granular;  they  constitute  a  kind  of  finest  dust  and  themselves 
contain  other  dust,  so  fine  as  to  defy  any  microscope,  yet  consisting  of 
separate  granules,  distinct  bits  of  matter.  Those  glorious  hues  which 
adorn  the  heavenly  sphere  are  nothing  but  a  means  of  relating 
indivisible  light  and  fractured  matter:  we  may  assert  that  the 
coloration  of  sunlight  is  that  aftertaste,  that  change  of  aspect,  which  is 
imparted  to  the  sunlight  by  the  dust  of  the  earth,  and  possibly  by  the 
even  finer  dust  of  the  sky. 6 

The  critics  looked  upon  Rayism  as  one  of  the  varieties  of 
abstract  art;  but  the  matter  was  more  complex.  Impressionism, 
preoccupied  with  color  values,  relegated  plastic  construction  to 
the  background.  Cubism,  by  contrast,  developed  the  structural 
element  at  the  expense  of  the  painterly.  Velimir  Khlebnikov, 
speaking  of  the  Russian  avant-garde,  observed  quite  cogently: 
"As  the  chemist  splits  water  into  oxygen  and  hydrogen,  so 
these  artists  have  broken  down  the  art  of  painting  into  its 
constituent  forces,  now  isolating  the  element  of  color,  now  that 
of  line."7 

Larionov  had  no  wish  to  sacrifice  either.  His  Rayism  was  an 
astonishing  attempt  to  combine  the  apparently  incompatible: 
the  vibrating  color  of  Impressionism  and  the  clarity  of 
construction  peculiar  to  Cubism.  Their  outward  non- 
objectivity  notwithstanding,  the  Rayist  works  of  Larionov — 
with  their  movement  toward  nature,  their  luminous  and 
intricately  vibrating  painting — call  up  natural  sensations  and 
associations.  His  Luchistyi  peizazh  (Rayist  Landscape,  1912-13, 
fig.  no.  3)  is  a  case  in  point.  The  painterly-spiritual 
visionariness  of  Kandinskii  and  the  stark  non-objectivity  of 
Malevich's  Suprematism  alike  were  alien  to  Larionov.  Always 
receiving  creative  impulses  from  the  visible  world,  he  was 
unable  to  sever  all  links  with  nature.  This  singularity — 
Rayism's  opposition  to  both  Abstractionism  and 
Suprematism — was  noted  at  the  time  by  Nikolai  Punin,  who 
held  that  the  theory  of  Rayism  had  been  advanced  by  Larionov 
"as  a  barrier  against  certain  rationalistic  tendencies  of  Cubism" 
and  in  practice  was  "the  fruit  of  very  subtle  realistic 

The  Rayist  canvases,  especially  those  labeled  "Realist 
Rayism,"  revealed  the  nature  of  Larionov 's  painterly  gift  and 
laid  bare  the  wealth  offaktura  which  was  vehicle  for  the  "color 
dust."  Without  a  subject  and  virtually  or  entirely  without  an 
object,  these  works  left  the  viewer  one-on-one  with  painterly 
values.  Larionov  remarked  on  this  himself:  "What  is  precious 
to  the  lover  of  painting  finds  its  maximum  expression  in  the 
Rayist  painting.  The  objects  we  see  in  life  play  no  role  there, 
while  what  constitutes  the  very  essence  of  painting  can  be 
shown  best  of  all:  the  interplay  of  color,  its  saturation,  the 
interrelations  of  color  masses,  depth,  faktura — by  this  persons 
interested  in  painting  may  become  totally  absorbed."9  Non- 
objectivity  may  instantly  expose  the  poverty  of  an  artist's 
painterly  gift,  but  it  is  also  capable  of  announcing  the  wealth 


of  another's. 

Larionov's  Rayism  did  not  appear  ex  nihilo;  the  artist 
himself  pointed  to  the  "rudiments  of  Rayism"  in  the  art 
preceding  it.  In  the  late  paintings  and  drawings  of  Mikhail 
Vrubel'  (such  as  Sbestikrylyi  serafim  [Six-Winged  Seraph,  1904] 
and  the  Proroki  [Prophets,  1903-4}  cycle)  one  discovers  plastic 
structures  which,  as  it  were,  presage  the  Rayist  structures  of 
Larionov.  Nikolai  Tarabukin  reports  that  "in  N.  A.  Prakhov's 
possession  there  was  a  pencil  drawing  of  a  male  nude  done  as  if 
in  a  'Rayist'  manner.  Thus  even  this  shortlived  movement  in 
painting,  'invented'  by  M.  Larionov,  was  to  a  certain  extent 
anticipated  by  Vrubel1."10  A  fair  number  of  such  "Rayist" 
drawings  by  Vrubel'  are  to  be  found  in  the  collection  of  the 
State  Russian  Museum  in  St.  Petersburg. 

The  artist  Pavel  Mansurov  linked  the  emergence  of  Rayism 
even  more  specifically  with  Vrubel1  in  his  account  of  an  episode 
in  Larionov's  (and  in  Vrubel's)  career  which  had  been  unknown 
to  scholars.  In  1899,  Vrubel',  working  on  his  ceramic  panel  for 
the  main  facade  of  the  Hotel  Metropol'  in  Moscow,  invited  a 
number  of  students  from  the  School  of  Painting,  Sculpture, 
and  Architecture  to  be  his  assistants.  Among  these  was 
Larionov,  who  spent  some  two  weeks  working  under  Vrubel'. 
We  shall  not  find  any  direct  results  of  this  contact  in  Larionov's 
work;  but  at  the  end  of  his  account,  Mansurov  makes  a  canny 
observation  about  the  backgrounds  in  Vrubel's  paintings, 
which  resemble  "frost-covered  windows.""  This  might  seem  a 
superficial  hallmark,  a  chance  resemblance,  yet  latent 
tendencies  in  the  development  of  Vrubel's  plastic  form, 
astutely  detected  by  Larionov,  are  discernible  in  it. 

The  art  historians  without  reservation  assigned  the  Russian 
artist  a  place  among  the  pioneers  of  Abstractionism,  and 
Larionov  readily  accepted  this  role.  But  they  failed  to  notice  in 
Larionov's  Rayism — outwardly  non-objective — values  and 
qualities  unknown  to  abstract  art:  the  readjustment  toward 
"naturalness"  and  a  painterly  response  to  visible  reality  that 
was  non-objective  yet  permeated  by  a  vital  sense  of  the  values 
of  nature.  Rayism  is  neither  lyrical  nor  expressive  abstraction. 
As  for  Larionov,  he  was  indeed  a  "precursor" — but  of  other 
painterly-plastic  undertakings,  which  still  await  detailed 

In  1912,  the  same  year  in  which  Rayism  originated,  Pavel 
Filonov,  presenting  the  first  fruits  of  his  creative  work,  wrote 
an  article  entitled  "Kanon  i  zakon"  ("Canon  and  Law") — an 
early  outline  of  the  principles  of  analytical  art.  This  marked  a 
new  understanding  of  the  world  and  a  new  creative  direction 
taken  in  opposition  to  Western  Cubism  and  Russian  Cubo- 
Futurism.  Filonov  wrote: 

/  am  given  to  understand  that  Cubo-F  uturism  and  Picasso  could 
not  have  failed  to  influence  my  theory  in  one  way  or  another.  I  am 
perfectly  aware  of  what  Picasso  is  doing  although  I  haven't  seen  his 
paintings;  but  I  must  say  that  he  personally  hasn't  influenced  me  any 
more  than  I  have  him,  and  he  hasn't  ever  laid  eyes  on  me,  even  in  his 
dreams.  On  the  other  hand,  there's  not  a  thing  that  is  done  in  our  or 
whatever  other  line  that  wouldn  't  have  had  an  influence  on  me, 
positive  or  negative.  His  influence  was  one  of  the  negative  ones.  What 
in  our  thinking  could  we  have  borrowed  from  Cubo-F  uturism,  whose 
mechanical  and  geometrical  foundations  have  led  into  a  blind  alley? 
Here  is  what  Cubo-F  uturism  comes  down  to:  purely  geometrical 
representation  of  the  volume  and  movement  of  things  in  time,  hence  also 
in  space;  of  mechanical  tokens  of  objects  in  motion,  i.e.,  mechanical 
tokens  of  life,  rather  than  of  an  organically  move